FCC Rules that E-Rate Can Fund Wi-Fi on Buses
The FCC has announced several steps in allowing E-Rate to support Wi-Fi on school buses. The extension of Wi-Fi on buses is seen as particularly useful for rural students who spend long periods traveling to and from school.
The FCC last week released a Declaratory Ruling that Wi-Fi on buses will be eligible for E-Rate funding beginning in the 2024 fiscal year.
The ruling designates that use of Wi-Fi or similar access point technology on school buses serves an educational purpose and therefore is eligible to receive E-Rate funds. The ruling directs the Wireline Competition Bureau to provide such funding to eligible equipment starting in the 2024 fiscal year. It also directs the FCC to seek comment on specific services and equipment that should be funded.
This is a significant move as the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) — which as of May, 2022 had spent $35 million to support Wi-Fi on school buses — is nearing its end.
The E-Rate program was authorized by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and was created by the FCC the following year. The goal was to enhance access to advanced telecommunications and information services for public and non-profit elementary and secondary school classrooms and libraries.
Currently, it enables schools, libraries and consortia to request Universal Service Fund support for broadband connectivity services to and within schools and libraries. The move by the FCC would ensure that school buses are included as well.
Making school buses eligible for Wi-Fi got a boost in May, 2022 when FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel introduced and circulated the Declaratory Ruling during a meeting of the Coalition for Technology in Education & Training. The FCC said at the time that many requests for the E-rate program to support Wi-Fi on buses had been received.