CTN operations are solid. The two year audit for FY12 and FY13 is completed. Our fund balance is strong. Revenue is stable with just under a 1% CPI increase starting last December. The deposit with Greater Media Motower was received along with simple interest per the lease agreement. The transition from Clearwire to Sprint payments proceeded seamlessly and we are now moving to Sprint equipment to replace the older, slower Clearwire equipment.
WiMax is still deployed on the six sites in Metropolitan Detroit that were established to meet substantial service requirements and support the Connect Your Community project. Over 300 users (about 50% of the Connect Your Community project users) are still using three Detroit WiMax sites free of charge.
Sprint has yet to build out the 2.5 GHz spectrum (which includes our EBS spectrum) in Metropolitan Detroit. However, Sprint has built 4G LTE service here in its 1.9 GHz spectrum, finally making available broad 4G LTE services. Our new equipment works with this service and will also work with 2.5 GHz when and where deployed. Also with the monthly cost of service being pushed down by competition, CTN receives more WiFi hotspot services under the Sprint sublease agreement than we did when we were with Clearwire. We have just received 240 4G LTE WiFi hotspots for distribution to member institutions.
The pressure to meet Common Core requirements appears to have put a damper on innovation and risk taking by our teachers. Applications for grant funds declined by 50% since last year. CTN did have eleven active grants in this fiscal year with commitment of $127,144 to innovative programs addreSSing CTN priorities. However, only four of these were new grants.
The good news is that CTN has extended its outreach to informal learning organizations. This is thanks to the efforts of Ron Sniderman, Director for Education Innovation and Programming and his push on Connected Learning. By reaching out to libraries, museums and other groups, Dr. Sniderman has forged new relationships which promise to bring in outside resources to improve teaching and learning and at the same time, support Common Core.
Major Events During the Year
We did not have anyone big event on the level of last year which marked purchases of Clearwire by Sprint and Sprint by Softbank and the resulting major capital
infusion needed to make the 2.5GHz spectrum a success. There was a push by Sprint to buy T-Mobile, but that was eventually abandoned [at least for time being). Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse was replaced in August by Marcelo Claure and a new strategy of lower prices launched which has helped CTN as more devices are available under our sublease agreement. Sprint continues to build out the 2.5 GHz spectrum (a foundation of its Spark service) in congested markets and the speeds and capacity are Sprint’s key strength.
The FCC has not opened an application window for educational broadband (EBS) spectrum for almost 20 years. In June of this year, the National EBS Association along with the Catholic Technology Network and others filed a consensus proposal with the FCC that attempts to meet the needs and desires of multiple constituencies. On July 16th, Jwas one of four EBS leaders who made a presentation to the new chief of the FCC Wireless Bureau, Roger Sherman, showing what educators have done with EBS spectrum and what barriers we still face. One major barrier is the lack of spectrum licenses, primarily in rural areas. The other is the lack of build out by wireless operators in licensed areas, both rural and metropolitan including Detroit. The EBS team was well received and only minor issues with the consensus proposal were raised. There is some hope that we’ll see movement in FY15.
Sprint’s failed bid to buy T-Mobile leaves Sprint to compete on pricing, not the best position for it. On the other hand, it doesn’t face the prospect of merging the different spectrum and technology standards of the two companies. Sprint is downplayed by some analysts and certainly the future of any company is not assured. Still, our revenue stream seems fairly stable and the promise remains of very high speed and capacity wireless service, even in metropolitan Detroit. Still, Detroit is apt to be one of the last places to get Sprint Spark because of the economics of the region and the challenges of coordination with Canada.
WiMax is expected to continue into 2015. Sprint could pull it at any time as needed to launch Sprint Spark. The new 4G LTE WiFi hotpots provided to CTN by Sprint will work with Sprint Spark so the shutdown of WiMax will not have any effect here. However, the shutdown of the community WiMax services will affect the 300 households still using the service for free. CTN has several options including doing nothing, pushing Sprint for community discounts, or perhaps offering a subsidy plan of its own. This could be akin to the grant to DPS with a target of disadvantaged students in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties or more broadly, akin to Mobile Citizen.
Our biggest challenge appears to be grant giving which is a good challenge to have. We have technology, cash and a steady revenue stream. What will we do with these resources that have a positive, measurable impact on our region? Does CTN need to broaden its grant focus to accomplish this? We have focused on seed grants, innovation in education, and provision of broadband access in low-income areas.
Do we look into more areas such as health care? Adult education? Community education? Should we fund equipment? Do we continue a push on Connected Learning? Should we hire someone to work with the schools to provide services the schools can no longer afford?
We have done well and are positioned well for the future. CTN continues to be in the position of having program funds to award rather worrying about survival. It is up to us to make the most of the opportunities this offers.
Patrick J. Gossman, Ph.D. Executive Director September 16,2014