With E-Rate funding, schools can provide Wi-Fi on school buses to keep students connected beyond campus
Students spend a lot of valuable time on the bus — 146 hours, or 24 school days, on average. Instead of using that time to aimlessly stare out the window, what if those hours could be spent completing an assignment due the next day?
With the FCC’s latest decision to make Wi-Fi and similar technologies eligible for E-Rate funding, this could become a possibility for millions of students nationwide as commutes turn into an extension of the classroom. Transforming yellow buses into rolling hotspots not only ensures that every student, regardless of their home Internet situation, has access to educational resources, but also helps those with long commutes — particularly in rural areas — make better use of their time.
What is E-Rate?
For more than two decades, the federal E-Rate program has been a cornerstone to ensuring K-12 schools (public or private) and libraries gain affordable access to vital telecommunications and information services, including facilitating high-speed broadband access for eligible organizations. The program is divided into two categories: category 1 covers the broadband delivery to schools, while category 2 covers hardware needed to bring the Internet into the classroom.
Through E-Rate, schools and libraries get discounts on eligible services, covering routers, firewalls, access points, and more. The extent of discounts provided —between 20% and 90% — is contingent upon the poverty level and location of the school or library.
What's new with E-Rate? School bus Wi-Fi
Over the years, E-Rate has adapted to technological advancements and the evolving needs of educational institutions. Traditionally focused on in-school connectivity, the FCC’s latest change extends the program's reach to school buses, recognizing the importance of connectivity beyond the traditional classroom setting.
Without Internet access at home, many students face barriers to fully engaging in their education and completing assignments outside of school hours. Nearly 17 million school children lack Internet access at home, creating a nationwide homework gap that separates those with affordable Internet access and those without access or financial means, according to the FCC.
As technology continues to play a crucial role in education, ensuring students have Internet access during their journeys to and from school has become a priority. Beginning in 2024, schools can leverage E-Rate funding to equip their buses with the necessary infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity to students.
How schools use connected buses to improve education and keep children safe
Homework on the go
With Wi-Fi on board, students can leverage their commute to complete homework assignments and more — all from their bus seats. To ensure students use the bus Wi-Fi only for educational purposes, URL content filtering based on CIPA compliance can block student access to websites and apps that aren’t being used for homework.
Safety and security
While E-Rate funding is specifically designated for homework on the bus, having a router on board can offer additional security benefits. According to E-Rate's ancillary use rule, if the primary application is designed for homework, supplementary applications such as noise recognition and real-time video monitoring can be integrated to bolster the safety and security of students, provided it doesn't surpass 10% of overall network traffic.
Commonly asked E-Rate questions
Q: Who is eligible for E-Rate funding?
A: Public or private schools (K-12), libraries, and groups of schools and libraries (e.g., consortia, districts, systems) can apply for discounts on eligible services. However, organizations must meet statutory definitions to be eligible for E-Rate program support.
Q: How do schools apply for E-Rate funding for buses?
A: Schools can apply for E-Rate funding through the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The application process requires the submission of required documentation and a demonstration of eligibility, following a six-step process to secure funding. Beginning with competitive bidding and the selection of a service provider, applicants then apply for discounts within the application window. Subsequently, their application undergoes review, services are initiated, and the final step involves invoicing for the applicable discount.
Q: What is the deadline to apply for E-Rate for buses?
A: To secure funding for school bus Wi-Fi (a category 1 service) in 2024, organizations must apply within the 2024 application window. Key dates include:
- July 2023 - February 28, 2024: The competitive bidding process begins. During this time, a FCC Form 470 must be filed. The form must be certified in EPC at least 28 days before the close of the filing window for the funding year in which services are requested.
- January 2024 - March 27, 2024: The discount application process begins. A FCC Form 471 must be filed to apply for discounts and receive funding commitment.
- July 1, 2024 - June 30, 2025: Services start, and a FCC Form 489 must be submitted.
- July, 2024 – January 2025: Invoices for nonrecurring services must be submitted to USAC using a FCC Form 472.
- July, 2024 – October, 2025: Invoices for recurring services must be submitted to USAC using a FCC Form 498.
Q: Are there any restrictions on using E-Rate funding for buses?
A: E-Rate funding is primarily intended for educational connectivity, meaning schools must adhere to program rules and guidelines. Using E-Rate funding for school buses means the primary use for Wi-Fi must be homework.