Lawmakers want the FCC to fund Wi-Fi on school buses

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In an effort to bring greater internet access to students who don’t have connections at home, new legislation was introduced Wednesday to encourage schools to provide wireless internet connections on school buses.

The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, would require the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program to reimburse school districts that install Wi-Fi technology on school buses.

“When we increase access to high-speed internet, we increase access to opportunities,” Udall said in a press release. “By extending internet access to students while they commute to and from school, this bill would turn travel time into study time, enabling kids to complete their homework before they get home.”

According to a 2018 report backed by education nonprofit Project Tomorrow, 13 percent of students in grades 6 through 12 cannot do their homework because they lack internet access outside of school. The so-called “homework gap” also disproportionately affects low-income students, who report doing less homework per hour than other students, according to a 2017 Brookings report.

“Lack of access to reliable broadband hurts children from rural and low-income communities who may not have quality internet accessible where they live,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada. “This legislation will help bridge that divide.”

This is not the first time a bill like this has been introduced to Congress. Proposed by Udall and Gardner in May 2018, Senate Bill 2958 was identical to the new bill, but stalled in committee.

Despite a current lack of grant funding for bus Wi-Fi installation, several districts have successfully connected students to the internet via school bus. Caldwell County, North Carolina, and Coachella Valley Unified School District in California have equipped their buses with Wi-Fi, turning them into rolling study halls, sometimes even parking them in neighborhoods overnight.

The Consortium for School Networking applauded the legislation.

Keith Krueger, CoSN’s CEO, said that this new legislation could transform daily bus rides into learning spaces on wheels.

“As learning — and society — have gone digital, it’s crucial that we ensure digital equity. Wi-Fi on buses is a key part of the bridge to close that gap,” he said.