Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation Expands E-Rate Eligibility to Include School Bus Wi-Fi
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide E-Rate Support for School Bus Wi-Fi to help close the homework gap while students travel on their daily school bus routes. The legislation expands eligibility for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that equip school buses with Wi-Fi technology.
According to the FCC, one in three households lacks broadband access, and a December study estimated that nearly 17 million students are stuck in the homework gap without internet access at home to complete their school assignments. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the digital divide into stark contrast, and school districts turned to other funding to provide Wi-Fi hot-spots on school buses and parked them throughout communities.
“For rural and Tribal students who travel hours to and from school, these commutes can be valuable time accessing the internet, completing assignments, and conducting research. Empowering our schools to equip buses with Wi-Fi is an opportunity to uplift our students, tackle the homework gap, and help alleviate the financial strain that too many families are experiencing at home,” said Senator Luján, Chair of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “I’m proud to join Senator Graham and Congressman Welch in bringing this legislation forward to help bridge the divide in New Mexico and across rural America.”
In addition to Senators Luján and Graham, the bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
“Supporting school districts that deploy WiFi on buses to keep children connected during their long bus rides to and from school is a great way to help students stay on top of their homework. I thank Senator Luján for working with me to introduce this common sense solution to help close the Homework Gap,” said Representative Welch.
The bill is endorsed by the National Education Association, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge, School Superintendents Association, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, National Rural Education Association, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
“Providing students and teachers with access to educational resources is just one of the many benefits of robust mobile broadband, and the need to provide this capability has certainly been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Steven K. Berry, President & CEO, Competitive Carriers Association. “Communities across the country, particularly those in rural areas, will greatly benefit from allowing students the opportunity to do homework and access the Internet on school buses, and mobile broadband is uniquely situated to provide connectivity for this much-needed service. This is a stellar concept which will help enhance the educational and learning experience for both urban and rural students across the country, and I thank Senator Lujan for re-introducing this important legislation.”
“Many students don’t have access to high-speed internet at home because it isn’t available, isn’t affordable, or just isn’t reliable. This exacerbates existing inequalities amongst marginalized communities, disadvantaging people trying to advance in their education or career,” said Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge. “Sen. Lujan’s bill, which allows schools to use E-Rate funding to equip school buses with Wi-Fi, will connect students during the pandemic as well as after they return to school. This is an important step and we look forward to continuing to work with Sen. Lujan as lawmakers work to close the digital divide permanently.”
“Ensuring that all students have off-campus access to broadband for learning requires a range of creative strategies. Wi-Fi equipped buses are an emerging solution that meets this critical need. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is pleased to endorse the E-Rate Support for School Bus Wi-Fi Act, which will empower students to continue learning during their commutes to and from home, regardless of where a student lives,” said Julia Fallon, Executive Director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).
Senator Luján also introduced the Broadband Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (BIFIA) to authorize $5 billion in federal funding for the BIFIA program to make low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure deployment projects. More information is available HERE.