U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said this week he is co-sponsoring legislation that would provide E-Rate support for school bus wi-fi to help close the homework gap while students travel on their daily school bus routes in Oregon and nationwide.
“Oregon students in rural and tribal communities taking long bus rides to and from school need wi-fi during those long stretches to keep up with daily assignments and tackle homework,” Wyden said. “All students regardless of their zip code should have solid internet access, and this legislation would lay the foundation for a reliable bridge to end the digital divide for young Oregonians.”
Wyden’s co-sponsorship of the E-Rate Support for School Bus Wi-Fi Act is part of his agenda to expand broadband access and make high-speed internet affordable across Oregon, including his introduction of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act that includes an additional $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit he helped craft in the second COVID relief package. That broadband provision had $3.2 billion to keep working families connected to the internet by providing a $50-a-month emergency broadband benefit for anyone laid off or furloughed during the pandemic.
The bipartisan E-Rate Support for School Bus Wi-Fi Act would expand 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.
In addition to Wyden, other co-sponsors of the bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), 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.).
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.
“Ensuring that all students have off-campus access to broadband for learning requires a range of creative strategies,” said Julia Fallon, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “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.”