A new proposal by the Federal Communication Commission would allow the use of government funding to include Wi-Fi onboard school buses across the country in an attempt to bridge the digital divide.
The covid-19 pandemic put a lot of things into perspective, one of which was the vitality of reliable technology. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2021, 90% of Americans labelled the internet as ‘essential’ or ‘important’ during the pandemic. In the same survey, 38% of parents with children in K-12 whose school was closed due to the pandemic, reported that their children had to actually rely on public Wi-Fi to complete their assignments. As the pandemic begins to maybe, hopefully, wind down, the digital divide—the gap between certain demographics and access to technology like high-speed internet—is still wide.
In an effort to close that divide, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed a solution to increase access to reliable Wi-Fi for students: put it on school buses. “I found that seven in 10 teachers were assigning homework that required internet access,” Rosenworcel said in a speech on May 11, 2022 to the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training Council. “But FCC data consistently demonstrated that one in three households do not have broadband at home.” Rosenworcel also stated that 17 million students are victim to the digital divide (also known as the Homework Gap).
The proposal is not only aimed at giving students access to reliable Internet on the way to and from school, but for those who participate in extracurriculars. Rosenworcel says, for example, that student athletes who travel to different towns could take advantage of the “Wi-Fi on wheels” to complete their homework during their commute instead of waiting until they get home later that night. “Every student who rides the bus and feels like they don’t have enough time in the day to get their homework done while juggling activities will benefit,” she said. It could even be possible to park these buses in front of schools to act as a Wi-Fi hub.
Funding for the Wi-Fi enabled buses would come from the FCC’s E-Rate program, in which eligible schools and libraries can apply for financial support to increase their broadband connection. Rosenworcel cited bipartisan interest in her idea on Capitol Hill, and is hopeful that the proposal will continue to move along.