Districts, SHLB Coalition Applaud FCC Approval of E-rate Funds for Wi-Fi on School Buses

Beginning in funding year 2024, K–12 school districts may use E-rate funding for school bus-based Wi-Fi, connecting students on long bus rides — and, in some districts, connecting students in homes with no internet service — just as the Emergency Connectivity Fund expires. 

The Federal Communications Commission recently announced that it will allow E-Rate funding to be used for Wi-Fi on school buses beginning in funding year 2024, filling the projected gaps after the ECF sunsets, the agency said. ECF funds helped school districts across the country provide internet connections to students during the height of the pandemic and ongoing intermittent closures; the FCC noted that hundreds of districts used ECF resources to equip school buses with Wi-Fi connections. 

The ruling “clarifies that the use of Wi-Fi, or other similar access point technologies, on school buses serves an educational purpose and the provision of such service is therefore eligible for E-Rate funding,” FCC wrote in a statement. “The Commission has previously found that the off-campus use of certain services is integral to the education of students and has permitted funding of such services through E-Rate. This ruling also directs the Wireline Competition Bureau to fund Wi-Fi on school buses, as well as any E-Rate-eligible equipment needed to enable the service, as part of funding year 2024 eligible services list proceeding and seek comment on the specific services and equipment that should be funded.”

Several organizations have applauded the FCC’s decision, including the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, which said the ruling “is a win for students, especially those in rural areas who face long bus rides and limited broadband access at home.” 

“This will help close the homework gap and improve educational outcomes for millions of students across the country,” said SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen Jr. 

School districts that implemented school bus Wi-Fi for students during the pandemic also called the new FCC rule a vital solution for their students and learning outcomes.

“Santa Fe Public Schools has implemented school bus Wi-Fi on every bus, extending access to the learning environment for all SFPS bus riders,” said Neal Weaver, Chief Information and Strategy Officer at Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico. “There is not a single solution in ensuring students have sufficient connectivity, and school bus Wi-Fi is an essential piece of the solution for Santa Fe students.”

“This is a game-changer for our students, especially those with long bus rides and student-athletes who spend a lot of time on the bus,” said Doug Culler, Director of Network Services at Shenandoah County Public Schools in Virginia. “With Wi-Fi on buses, students will be able to use their bus time to work on homework, complete assignments, and stay connected with their classmates and teachers. This is a major step forward in our efforts to ensure that all students have access to the resources they need to succeed.”

“Central Consolidated School District covers almost 3000 square miles of rural/tribal lands,” said Leandro M. Venturina, the New Mexico district’s Director of Data, Assessment, Research and Technology. “The ruling for Wi-Fi on school buses to be eligible for E-rate funding will be essential for our students who, on average, ride the bus for 90 minutes each day. Students are able to complete homework and other school-related tasks and communicate with teachers through the Learning Management System on their way to and from school. This effort will be a significant game changer for CCSD students to respond to the growing needs for digital skills.”

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].