Non-profit

Voqal Fund (Instructional Telecommunications Foundation)

Website:

voqal.org

Location:

BOULDER, CO

Tax ID:

84-0943035

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2016):

Revenue: $3,892,523
Expenses: $3,723,912
Assets: $29,570,832

Formation:

1983

Type:

Telecommunications Lobbying Nonprofit

Formerly:

Instructional Telecommunications Foundation

President:

John Schwartz

The Instructional Telecommunications Foundation, doing business as Voqal, is a lobbying nonprofit which advocates for left-of-center policies, including increased government regulation of public broadcasting. Voqal provides substantial funding to groups involved with the Democracy Alliance, a donor collaborative for high-profile funding groups on the Left. Voqal generates revenue by leasing access to broadcasting spectrum that the nonprofit received under a federal effort to promote education to private telecommunications corporations.

Background

Voqal was originally founded in 1983 as Instructional Telecommunications Foundation, alongside Chicago Instructional Technology Foundation, Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium, Portland Regional Educational Telecommunications Corporation, and the Twin Cities Schools’ Telecommunications Group. [1]

In 2013, the regional groups would come together under Instructional Telecommunications Foundation to rebrand as Voqal. [2] Voqal operates as an Educational Broadband Service licensee, meaning that Voqal is one of the organizations approved to utilize certain broadcasting spectrums that were set aside by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for educational purposes rather than commercial use. [3]

In its 2018 annual report, Voqal said that it “is committed to using the airwaves to benefit the public,” by promoting education, but also said that it “embraces a broader view of education” than most people. [4]

Funding

Voqal does not receive grants from other organizations or foundations. Instead, most of Voqal’s revenue comes from royalties and investment income. [5]

To generate these royalties, Voqal engages in excess capacity agreements, common among public broadcasting nonprofits, which lease out up to 95 percent of a nonprofit’s bandwidth to private corporations. [6] [7]

In 2006, Voqal signed a 30-year lease of its highly valuable public broadcasting spectrum with Sprint, allowing Sprint to operate on the spectrum in exchange for “cash payments.” In 2007, Voqal’s tax returns show that the group received $22,789,260 in “royalty income.” [8] [9] [10] Just one year prior, Voqal had reported total revenues of negative $6,086. [11]

Since 2006, Voqal has received yearly payments of roughly $2-3 million in royalties continuing all the way to 2018. [12]

Democracy Alliance

For more information, see Democracy Alliance (Other Group)

Voqal is a dues paying member of the Democracy Alliance, and regularly makes grants to fellow Democracy Alliance members across the country such as Color Of Change PAC, Faith in Action (formerly PICO National Network), and numerous state-level voter mobilization affiliates such as the Win Win Network. [13] [14]Voqal also provides funding to major left-wing “dark money” groups such as the Sixteen Thirty Fund and The Advocacy Fund. [15] [16] [17]

The largest portion of Voqal’s fiscal support, roughly $1,000,000 in grants per year, goes towards Public Communicators, the non-profit group that operates Free Speech TV, a left-wing media outlet founded by Voqal’s president, John Schwartz. [18] Free Speech TV is also a known member of the Democracy Alliance. [19]

Another group that has received significant funding from Voqal is the Proteus Action League, a prominent left-wing “pass-through” organization, which has received a $350,000 grant from Voqal in 2012 for a “campaign against money in politics,” along with smaller grants of roughly $50,000 every year since. [20]

Political Activities

Criticism of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

In 2018, Voqal attacked Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to commercialize the Educational Broadband Services (EBS) spectrum, saying that the FCC ought to “keep EBS educational” and that the EBS frequencies should be preserved because “Successful public-private partnerships have been encouraged in this band for over 30 years.” [21] Voqal did not mention the multi-million-dollar agreement with Sprint that allows its EBS spectrums to be commercialized. [22]

PAC Contributions

Voqal has also entered the political sphere through PAC funding. In 2018 Voqal contributed $70,000 dollars to the Color of Change PAC, an organization associated with the liberal donor collective Democracy Alliance. [23]

Programs

Mobile Citizen

In 2009 Voqal launched “Mobile Citizen” in Portland, Oregon. [24] Mobile Citizen is a program that offers mobile broadband to nonprofit groups. [25]

In 2017, Mobile Citizen created the Street Ready Program, which offers one month of wireless internet and loaned mobile internet hotspot devices, free of charge to left-leaning nonprofits. [26] The Street Ready program offers portable devices which allow up to 10 people to connect to the internet at a time so that they can “livestream protests, rallies, and [their] organization’s other activities without using [their] limited resources.” [27]

According to Voqal’s 2018 annual report, the Street Ready Program was initially launched to provide left-wing lawyers free internet in airports during their efforts to work against the Trump administration’s ban on individuals traveling to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries where proper identification and background checks could not be obtained. [28]

Crash Course Civics

Voqal was the primary funder for the popular YouTube channel Crash Course’s series on government and politics. [29] [30] Crash Course is a well-known educational YouTube channel that has upwards of 9 million subscribers, produces educational videos marketed towards children, and is a favorite source for many teachers looking for content to engage students during class.

Leadership

Voqal contracts EBS Support Services, where John Scwartz is employed, to manage its funding and activism efforts. EBS is in charge of organizing the funding and management of each of the five organizations that formed Voqal. [31] Schwartz has also founded several television stations including Free Speech TV, an extremely left-wing news and activism station. [32]

On July 15, 2019, Voqal promoted its longtime COO, Adam Miller, to CEO in order to “oversee the principal operations and business activities administered at Voqal ensuring they are consistent with Voqal’s strategy and mission.” [33] This occurred on the same day that Voqal was required to submit information detailing the extent of their educational activities to Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr. [34] The group noted that Voqal president John Scwartz would continue to serve in his current role, though Miller’s promotion strongly suggests that Schwartz will be taking a lesser role in the organization moving forward.

References

  1. “Timeline.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-impact/timeline/#event-the-five-nonprofit-companies-that-comprise-voqal-are-established.
  2. “Timeline.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-impact/timeline/#event-the-five-nonprofit-companies-that-comprise-voqal-are-established.
  3. Berdik, Chris. “As the Digital Divide Grows, an Untapped Solution Languishes.” Wired. July 10, 2017. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/hechinger-school-spectrum/.
  4. “Pressroom.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/news/pressroom/.

    See the 2018 Annual Report.

  5. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2018. Part VIII. Line 5.
  6. “Timeline.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-impact/timeline/#event-voqal-signs-first-excess-capacity-deal.
  7. Berdik, Chris. “As the Digital Divide Grows, an Untapped Solution Languishes.” Wired. July 10, 2017. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/hechinger-school-spectrum/.
  8. Berdik, Chris. “As the Digital Divide Grows, an Untapped Solution Languishes.” Wired. July 10, 2017. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/hechinger-school-spectrum/.
  9. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2007. Part VII. Line 103. Subsection D.
  10. “Leadership.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-story/leadership/.
  11. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2006. Part I. Line 12.
  12. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2006-2018. Part VII.
  13. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2017. Schedule I.
  14. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2007. Statement 3.
  15. “Spring 2014 Democracy Alliance Portfolio Snapshot.” Scribd. Accessed July 10, 2019. https://www.scribd.com/doc/224397893/Spring-2014-Democracy-Alliance-Portfolio-Snapshot.
  16. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2017. Schedule I.
  17. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2006-2017. Schedule I.
  18. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2006-2017. Schedule I.
  19. “Spring 2014 Democracy Alliance Portfolio Snapshot.” Scribd. Accessed July 10, 2019. https://www.scribd.com/doc/224397893/Spring-2014-Democracy-Alliance-Portfolio-Snapshot.
  20. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2012-2017. Schedule I. Additional Data Table.
  21. “Pressroom.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/news/pressroom/.

    See “Voqal Encourages FCC to Preserve and Modernize EBS.”

  22. Berdik, Chris. “As the Digital Divide Grows, an Untapped Solution Languishes.” Wired. July 10, 2017. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/hechinger-school-spectrum/.
  23. “Browse Individual Contributions.” FEC.gov. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Voqal.
  24. “Timeline.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-impact/timeline/#event-mobile-citizen-is-launched.
  25. “Timeline.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-impact/timeline/#event-mobile-citizen-is-launched.
  26. “What We Offer.” Mobile Citizen. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://mobilecitizen.org/service/what-we-offer/.
  27. “What We Offer.” Mobile Citizen. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://mobilecitizen.org/service/what-we-offer/.
  28. “Pressroom.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/news/pressroom/.

    See the 2018 Annual Report.

  29. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2018. Schedule O. Supplemental Information.
  30. CrashCourse. “Introduction: Crash Course U.S. Government and Politics.” YouTube. January 23, 2015. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrk4oY7UxpQ&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtOfse2ncvffeelTrqvhrz8H.

    See the video description.

  31. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Instructional Telecommunications Foundation. 2018. Schedule O. Additional Information.
  32. “Leadership.” Voqal. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://voqal.org/our-story/leadership/.
  33. “Pressroom.” Voqal. Accessed July 16, 2019. https://voqal.org/news/pressroom/.
  34. Eggerton, John. “FCC’s Carr Calls Out EBS ‘Steward’.” Broadcasting & Cable. July 03, 2019. Accessed July 16, 2019. https://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/fccs-carr-calls-out-ebs-steward.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: March - February
  • Tax Exemption Received: January 1, 2001

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Mar Form 990 $3,892,523 $3,723,912 $29,570,832 $876,234 Y $9,311 $0 $675,417 $2,228
    2015 Mar Form 990 $4,241,136 $3,246,707 $29,753,962 $828,131 Y $0 $11,394 $788,783 $100,423 PDF
    2014 Mar Form 990 $-4,924,900 $2,752,644 $28,138,718 $304,346 Y $0 $91,352 $451,319 $155,055 PDF
    2013 Mar Form 990 $3,392,976 $2,913,956 $24,655,919 $599,203 Y $0 $143,901 $367,890 $160,489 PDF
    2012 Mar Form 990 $3,900,312 $2,990,193 $22,906,835 $668,855 Y $0 $37,330 $317,135 $139,539 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Voqal Fund (Instructional Telecommunications Foundation)

    PO BOX 6060
    BOULDER, CO 80306-6060