Wi-Fi on School Buses is a Horrible Idea 

By Jason Lee

In July 2023, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel was pushing the idea of installing Wi-Fi on school buses using E-Rate funding during a speech at the American Library Association. This was in spite of the fact that E-Rate funding explicitly should be used only to provide internet access for classrooms and libraries. However, federally funded Wi-Fi on school buses is both unnecessary and a terrible idea. 

Shockingly, that idea got approved by the FCC Commission through a 3-2 vote on October 19, 2023. Two of the Republican FCC commissioners, Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington, dissented on the rule. 

Chairwoman Rosenworcel claims this is a necessary move because of “Section 254 of the Communications Act, which gives the FCC authority to use E-rate funds for ‘additional services for educational purposes.’” She added that during President George W. Bush’s administration more than two decades ago, the FCC made a similar decision on E-rate when it approved the use of cell phones and mobile wireless services for buses.” 

She added: “We are just updating it to meet this moment.”  

Commissioner Simington made the case that the rule was “wasteful and unlikely to benefit students and teachers.”  

“Anyone who’s ever been in a school bus should have a healthy skepticism that most children will, in fact, sit quietly and do homework on their laptops, instead of socializing with the friends on the bus and browsing social media on their phones,” he said. 

Before this rule came into effect, Senator Ted Cruz and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the lead Republicans on the Senate and House Commerce Committees, sent a letter to Chairwoman Rosenworcel that made a similar argument: “The proposed expansion of funding, including to fund Wi-Fi hotspots on school buses, is not only unlawful (the statute only allows for connectivity spending for classrooms and libraries) but raises concerns about subsidizing children’s unsupervised internet access to social media sites, like TikTok and Instagram, on their bus rides to and from school.” 

Currently, the FCC commission is also proposing another expansion of the E-Rate Program for Wi-Fi hotspots which would continue internet access for remote learning. The two Republican Commissioners disapproved on that rule, too, and Commissioner Simington linked the two policies: “The proposed expansion “lawless and wasteful.”” 

Republican Senator Ted Cruz this week proposed a reform plan for the Universal Service Fund, which funds E-Rate. Regarding Wi-Fi on school buses, the report claims that there would be no benefit children with their studies; instead they would be distracted with the use of social media like Tik-Tok and Instagram. He added that, “E-Rate should be evaluated so policymakers can make sure it is truly benefitting pedagogical objectives. If the federal government is going to continue subsidizing internet usage in schools through the USF, it should be to serve children—not the interests of tech and telecom lobbyists.” 

Overall, lawmakers need to do a better job to ensure that the E-Rate program is being used in a proper way so that there will be no waste, fraud, or abuse. Additionally, the children deserve better to succeed in this country by not putting them on screens.