School bus

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed using E-Rate program funding to deploy Wi-Fi on school buses.

Rosenworcel introduced the Declaratory Ruling, which must be adopted by the commission in order to go into effect, during a meeting of the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.

Wi-Fi on school buses is especially valuable in rural areas because of the time students spend in transit. The FCC already has spent $35 million to support Wi-Fi on school buses through the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which is a temporary program aimed at helping to ameliorate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through support for off campus broadband.

The FCC has received many requests for the E-Rate program to support Wi-Fi on school buses, according to a press release. The E-Rate program enables schools, libraries and consortia to request universal service support for broadband connectivity services to and within schools and libraries.

The Declaratory Ruling says that potential impact on funding Wi-Fi would be outweighed by the benefits and that demand for the E-Rate program has been lower than the funding cap for several years.

“While we’ve made progress getting many more families connected through our various broadband funding programs, the Homework Gap is still a hard fact of life for millions of schoolchildren in urban and rural America,” Rosenworcel said in a press release. “Wiring our school buses is a practical step we can take that is consistent with the history of the E-rate program. This commonsense change could help kids who have no broadband at home. I look forward to having my colleagues join me in approving this step to support the online educational needs of our nation’s schoolchildren.”

The third and presumably last funding window for the ECF ends tomorrow. The program, which is funded at $7.17 billion, so far has given out about $5 billion of those funds, including support from AT&T and Charter for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest in the country.

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