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Funding for Wi-Fi aboard school buses could become eligible for funding under the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program if FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gets her way.

She proposed a declaratory ruling during a meeting of the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training to make that funding available under the FCC’s E-Rate program to help millions of students caught in the homework gap. According to an FCC news release, the proposal would clarify that the use of Wi-Fi or other similar access-point technologies aboard school buses serve an educational purpose.

“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. 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 E-Rate program allows eligible schools, libraries, and consortia to request universal service support for broadband connectivity services to and within schools and libraries.

“Over the years, the FCC has received many requests from E-Rate stakeholders asking that Wi-Fi on school buses be made eligible for E-Rate funding to enhance broadband access to students,” the news release stated. “Using the funding for this purpose is consistent with the Commission’s past determinations regarding other eligible off-campus uses of E-Rate-supported services.”

The draft ruling directs the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau to include funding Wi-Fi on buses in establishing E-Rate eligible services for the upcoming funding year.

Funding for Wi-Fi on school buses is already covered under the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, a temporary program that Congress mandated as part of COVID-19 relief measures. To date, the Commission has committed more than $35 million in funding through that program for the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband services for school buses. The declaratory ruling finds that any potential impact of funding Wi-Fi on school buses would be limited compared to the substantial benefit reaped by students, noting that demand in the E-Rate program has been substantially lower than the funding cap in the last several years.  

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