Gardner, Udall, Cortez Masto, and Whitehouse Introduce Bill to Put Wi-Fi on School Buses and Help Close the Digital Divide

Bipartisan bill aims to close "homework gap" that disadvantages low-income and rural students without internet access at home

Legislation would make Wi-Fi on school buses eligible for E-Rate reimbursement 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to make it easier to put wireless internet on school buses in order to help students without broadband access at home get online to study, learn, and complete homework. The legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate Program to reimburse school districts that place Wi-Fi technology on school buses carrying students to school or school-related extracurricular activities. Companion legislation will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM). 

“Many students in rural school districts across Colorado and the country spend hours on the bus each day commuting to and from school and traveling to sporting events,” said Senator Gardner. “These students should have the opportunity to use their time more effectively and installing Wi-Fi on school buses will allow them to finish homework assignments and bring the classroom to the road. Senator Udall and I are introducing this bipartisan legislation that will allow school districts to invest in their students and use federal dollars to outfit their school buses with WiFi. This will help rural students and especially low-income students who may not otherwise have access to mobile Internet. I’m excited about this new opportunity and look forward to seeing students in Colorado benefit from this initiative.” 

“When we increase access to high-speed internet, we increase access to opportunities. Every kid in New Mexico and across the country should have every opportunity to succeed – no matter where they live or how much their family makes. But nearly one-third of New Mexico kids are at risk of falling behind in school simply because they can’t get on the internet at home,” said Senator Udall. “It’s time to end the homework gap and set our kids up for success. By extending internet access to students while they commute to and from school, this bill would turn travel time into study time, enabling kids to complete their homework before they get home. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ll continue to push for innovative, 21st century solutions to help bridge the digital divide that hurts too many rural, Tribal, and low-income communities across New Mexico through strong federal investment in broadband and internet infrastructure.” 

“Lack of access to reliable broadband hurts children from rural and low-income communities who may not have quality internet accessible where they live. This legislation will help bridge that divide and expand learning opportunities so our students in Nevada have greater opportunity to excel in their schoolwork. Investing in our children’s education now will ensure our kids can compete for and get the 21st century jobs of the future,” said Senator Cortez Masto.

“While schoolwork often requires internet access outside of school, many students don’t have a way to get online at home,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Making wi-fi available on school buses is a simple way to set kids up for success by providing a daily window to help them complete their homework.” 

“When we think about efficiencies in federal policies, and common sense solutions that allow education system leaders to make small changes with big impacts: that is the type of policy we can support. AASA applauds Mr. Gardner and Mr. Udall for their continued leadership on the issue of expanding access to internet for our students, and AASA is pleased to support their bill that would require the Federal Communications Commission to include Wi-Fi access on school buses an eligible use of the E-Rate program. AASA has long supported the E-Rate program, responsible for transforming internet access in classrooms across the nation over the last two decades, and this legislation is another step forward in ensuring that today’s 24-hour students have 24-hour access,“ said Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the School Superintendents Association. 

“Access to educational resources is just one of the many benefits that robust mobile broadband can bring to communities across the country.  Allowing students the opportunity to do homework and access the Internet on school buses is a perfect example, and CCA supports this effort to ensure no student – whether urban or rural – is left behind in the digital world,” said Steven K. Berry, President and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association. 

The full text of the legislation is available here. A summary of the bill is available here.