FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called on her fellow commissioners to support new efforts to allow E-Rate funding to support Wi-Fi support on school buses during a speech at the American Library Association’s annual conference.
In addition, Rosenworcel wants E-Rate to support Wi-Fi hotspots so that libraries, school libraries, and schools can check them out to patrons or students in need. She is calling the initiative “Learn Without Limits.”
The E-Rate program started more than 15 years ago and was designed to help libraries obtain funds for basic internet connections. Since the program’s initiation, the regulator has expanded how funding can be used, including allowing it to cover Wi-Fi throughout school and library buildings.
Other aid for schools and libraries came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as Congress created a new program to help meet the adapting connectivity demands of libraries and schools—the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECP).
ECP, a $7.17 billion fund is administered by schools and libraries and was designed to provide devices and connectivity for students to use outside school and library locations. So far more than 17 million students have been able to get connected through the program. The most recent award was for $12 million.
“At the FCC, we want to make sure that everyone, everywhere has access to high-speed internet service. But we know millions of people in this country are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Libraries help fill that gap. They have computer labs. They have classes to teach digital skills. And they help enroll people in our programs to support internet for all, like the Affordable Connectivity Program,” Rosenworcel said in her speech about the E-rate Wi-Fi proposal.
“These efforts are on top of the day-to-day work you do to help people navigate information, get the facts they are searching for, the services they require, and the support they need to participate in modern life. That’s why it’s time for the FCC to update its E-rate program to reflect these realities to better support libraries and the students and communities they serve.”