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Jessica Rosenworcel Plans To Make School Bus Wi-Fi Permanent Subsidy

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
(Image credit: JohnStaleyPhoto.com)

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is proposing to allow federal funds to be used to provide Wi-Fi on school buses going forward.

Government money can currently be used for that purpose, but only under the Emergency Connectivity Fund, a pandemic-related temporary program. (The FCC has already spent $35 million on Wi-Fi service for buses).

Currently, the FCC's E-rate program subsidizes school and library connectivity, but not buses, despite calls from some E-rate stakeholders that such a move would help close the "homework gap."

Rosenworcel unveiled the plan at a meeting of the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training. The FCC would simply issue a declaratory ruling -- which does not require notice and comment -- "clarifying that use of Wi-Fi, or similar access point technologies, on school buses serves an educational purpose," so that E-rate funding could be used.

"This commonsense change could help kids who have no broadband at home," she said.

Rosenworcel was among those in a Rose Garden crowd Monday (May 9) as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Administration had gotten commitments from almost two dozen private sector ISPs to lower service costs for high speed broadband (at least 100 mbps). Biden and Harris also announced the launch of a GetInternet.gov website on how to sign up for the American Connectivity Program (ACP).

The draft ruling would make buses eligible in the upcoming funding E-rate year, according to the FCC. \

Rosenworcel drew some praise from groups ready to get on the bus, as it were.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) were quick to throw their support behind the proposal. Not a surprise since they have introduced legislation to allow Wi-Fi on school buses.

"I am delighted that Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the FCC are working to expand access to Wi-Fi on school buses," said Welch. 

"I’m glad Chairwoman Rosenworcel continues to take decisive action to expand internet connection and I look forward to continuing our partnership to ensure New Mexico’s communities are 100% connected," said Luján.

"Benton applauds Chairwoman Rosenworcel and this critical effort to support a continuum of connectivity for America's schoolchildren," said Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Executive Editor Kevin Taglang. "As far back as 2016, approximately 3% of the schools had begun to offer Wi-Fi on school buses, and nearly 4 percent were planning to do so in the near future. The reasoning is clear: school buses can be an extension of the school and facilitate online study. The FCC should seize this opportunity to turn school buses into rolling study halls."■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.