How 5G Caused A Feud Between A Small Christian School and T-Mobile

By Bob Smietana
T-mobile tower 5G
A fight over an FCC spectrum license has put a small religious school, Christian College of Georgia, at odds with cellphone giant T-Mobile. (Photo by iStrfry, Marcus/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

The best decision Bob Harris, president of Christian College of Georgia, ever made for his school was to apply for an obscure Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license.

In the 1990s, Harris learned that schools like his could apply for Educational Broadband Service licenses to allow them to broadcast educational programs. Such a license, he thought, would allow the school, which provides remote education for part-term clergy in the Disciples of Christ denomination, to expand its ministry.

The school could also lease some of its excess bandwidth to a cellphone provider to make a few extra bucks to support the mission. Since the license was free, Harris thought there was nothing to lose.

“I just applied for it and got it,” he said. “Anyone else could have done the same thing.”

His decision paid off.

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Harris said his school, which was founded in the 1940s, currently gets $55,000 a year — or half of its annual income — from a lease of its EBS license, which the FCC identifies as WND620, to T-Mobile.

Thanks to 2019 changes in FCC regulations that allow schools to sell their licenses off to commercial companies, Christian College of Georgia now finds itself with a license that is worth millions.

Last year, a company called WCO Spectrum offered Christian College more than $5.5 million for the license — an offer that could transform the future of the college. As the number of small churches rises — half the churches in the U.S. draw 65 people or fewer to services, according to the Faith Communities Today study — the need for part-time pastors will continue to grow.

Bob Harris
Bob Harris (Photo: Christian College of Georgia)

With a windfall from the sale of its license, the school could help provide training for many of them in its denomination. “If I had $5 million, I could really widen our net in terms of how we serve the church,” Harris said.

But a Goliath-sized obstacle stands in the school’s way.

T-Mobile has no intention of allowing Christian College to sell its license. When the school approached T-Mobile about the potential, the telecom giant replied with an offer to buy the license for $1 million and a warning: T-Mobile would try to block any other sale of the lease, according to a letter from T-Mobile’s lawyer in the summer of 2021.

“In short, the Lease does not permit the College to sell or assign the License to WCO,” the letter reads.

At issue is T-Mobile’s vast 5G network, which it claims is the largest in the country. That network is built largely on leases like the one with Christian College, which covers much of the area near Athens, Georgia. When the FCC changed its rules to allow the sale of those licenses, that network was put at risk.

Mike Dano, editorial director for Lightreading.com, a website that covers the telecom industry, described the situation this way in an article earlier this year.

“Although it involves the obscure and arcane world of FCC spectrum licensing, the lopsided bidding war between T-Mobile and WCO is important because T-Mobile’s cornerstone midband 5G network is built on top of hundreds of licenses just like WND620,” he wrote.

At least two other religious schools have found themselves at odds with T-Mobile over EBS licenses. The telecom giant is currently suing Albright College, a United Methodist affiliated school in Reading, Pennsylvania, to block a potential sale of Albright’s EBS licenses. T-Mobile, according to a court filing in the Albright suit, also claims it settled a dispute with a Catholic college in Pittsburgh when that school agreed to sell its license to T-Mobile.

Neither T-Mobile nor Albright responded to requests for comment.

T-mobile logo
The T-Mobile logo on a building. (Photo by Mika Baumeister/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

Harris estimated that out of more than 2,000 EBS licenses, more than 100 belong to religious schools like Christian College. Few have the wherewithal to fight T-Mobile in court. He compared it to the biblical story of David and Goliath — with an international telecom company worth billions squaring off against a small school with less than $200,000 in annual income.

“When you talk with religious institutions, they are not going to fight T-Mobile,” he said. “The University of Georgia might be able to but we’re not going to fight T-Mobile.”

So far, the school’s only option has been to file a petition with the FCC, asking the agency to resolve the dispute. That initial petition was filed in November 2021. T-Mobile has asked the FCC to dismiss the petition.

There’s been no movement on a decision, said attorney Jim Johnston, who has represented Christian College since it signed a lease with Clearwire — which later became part of Sprint and then T-Mobile — in 2009.

If T-Mobile prevails in blocking a potential sale to WCO, he said, that means the school would lose out on millions. He pointed out that licenses are worth much more today than when the leases on them were signed.

Who should benefit, he asked — schools like Christian College or a telecom giant?

 “The real question here: Who gets this windfall?” he said.

For Harris’ part, the dispute is personal. He’s approaching retirement age and wants to make sure the school’s mission goes on after he is gone — something a potential sale could help ensure.

He’s doesn’t want to back down from T-Mobile, despite its size.

“It became an issue between me and T-Mobile,” he said. “You’re not going to intimidate us just because we’re small and religious. I’ll have to go to confession about that later.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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15 thoughts on “How 5G Caused A Feud Between A Small Christian School and T-Mobile”

  1. What are the terms of the lease?

    I’m surprised that the figures used here. 55,000 a year income? $200,000 a year income for a school? That would pay for people $50,000 a year income?

  2. There is something up with t mobile and the 5g. How healthy are these towers? They put them up all over our town during the pandemic, even put them right above new apartment buildings….

    1. The towers are fine. The conspiracy theory nonsense that has been spread about 5g has been ridiculous. There is absolutely no scientific basis for claim that they help cause or spread Covid.

      1. Mike, please educate yourself before you make absolute statements that are untrue, and based on governmental propaganda.

        I could provide you days of reading material concerning EMF’s, RF’s, ELF’s and millimeter waves (5g) that prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the telecommunication industry knows these are harmful on a cellular level in plants, animals, humans, insects, etc., yet are continuing to tell the world they do not harm health. Start here:

        http://www.healthymoneyvine.com/5G_technology.html

        If you want more, just ask. We are being systematically poisoned via our food, water, and air.

        1. Kenly, do you believe that many world leaders are shape-shifting lizard people? Because that’s what David Icke believes. He’s used as a source on the page you linked.

          Do you believe the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews developed 5G to sterilize gentiles? Because that’s promoted on the page you linked.

          1. Hi David,

            I’m not sure of your intent in pointing out the peripheral without addressing the substance. Usually people who do likewise are not interested in wrestling with the main point.

            Do you agree with every issue with someone’s perspective before you recommend them? If not, what percentage would you have to agree with them before you could?

            Do you disagree that 5g can be very harmful to one’s health? If so, why?

            If you want to investigate who’s behind this massive world wide crime cabal I’d recommend you research (via Brave search engine or similar) the khazarian mafia and how it came to be. It will also shed some fascinating light on the current Ukraine/Russia conflict.

          2. Gordon Hackman

            I David’s point is that what you call “the peripheral” reveals the site to be an untrustworthy source of information. It doesn’t make sense to say the mainstream media is lying to us and untrustworthy, and then turn to an alternative source of news which also reveals itself to be untrustworthy.

    1. Mark Gunderson

      Hi Richard. End-to-end encryption means that’s not really true.

      If you are worried about mobile device privacy your biggest problems are the sites and apps you use, your phone hardware/OS manufacturer, and your cell carrier.

    2. What is it about 5g that caused people to believe these wild theories? There’s nothing special about 5g compared with all the other wireless technology people use everyday with no fuss.

  3. This is the problem with the libertarian view point that government regulations aren’t necessary because the court system can be use to prevent the corporations, rich and powerful from trampling over ordinary folk.

    You can’t compete with armies of high paid lawyers no matter how much you’re in the right.

  4. Kenly Wayne, it is good that you are deeply researching topics such as 5G to find out the truth, instead of just blindly believing the Official Narrative promoted by the establishment.

    You are to be commended for doing your own research and forming your own conclusions, instead of just believing whatever the TV says.

    Don’t ever let the naysayers discourage you or badger you into going along with the crowd.

    Remember, back in the day, the Official Narrative was that asbestos was safe and smoking cigarettes was perfectly healthy. Anyone who questioned the Official Narrative was mocked and jeered at as a “conspiracy theorist”.

    It’s a very good thing that you are justifiably skeptical of the Official Narrative. I’m not an expert on 5G or COVID, but there are many unanswered questions and legitimate concerns about 5G, which the establishment dismisses as “conspiracy theories.”

    God wants us to question earthly authority, and not blindly trust what we are told. (Ephesians 6:12)

    Indeed, if we just blindly and without thinking accepted whatever “the authorities” say, then we have no right to criticize people in “authority” like John MacArthur.

    But of course, Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to blindly trust the authorities. As Christians, we are commanded to obey Jesus and His Word, rather than the earthly authorities. A time is coming when Christians will have to rebel against the evil power of the anti-christ and the mark of the beast.

    Blindly obeying and trusting the authorities and the powerful is the complete opposite of what God wants.

    I just wanted to give you some encouragement. Don’t let the naysayers discourage you.

    God bless you!

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