Is Wi-Fi service coming to a school bus near you?

The answer to that question may be a resounding yes, if Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has anything to say about it.

The FCC Chairwoman on May 11 proposed a declaratory rulemaking that would use Federal funding from the E-Rate program to pay for on-board Wi-Fi service on school buses.

The proposal, the commission said, “would clarify that use of Wi-Fi, or similar access point technologies, on school buses serves an educational purpose and the provision of such service is therefore eligible for E-Rate funding.”

The long-standing E-Rate program is run by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the FCC and helps schools and libraries to obtain affordable broadband services. Program funding is capped at about $4.2 billion per year currently.

The school bus Wi-Fi initiative is another step in a long line of efforts by the FCC – often with Rosenworcel leading the policy charge – to help close what she has called the “Homework Gap” that afflicts many students who don’t have broadband service in their homes and must rely on other sources of service to tackle their schoolwork.

“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.

“Wiring our school buses is a practical step we can take that is consistent with the history of the E-rate program,” she said. “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 FCC noted that funding for Wi-Fi on school buses is already covered under the existing Emergency Connectivity Fund program, a temporary program that Congress mandated as part of COVID-19 relief measures. The FCC to date has committed more than $35 million in funding through that program for the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband services for school buses.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk SLG's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.