HomeTechnologyFCC Releases Eligible Services List for E-Rate School Bus Wi-Fi Funding

FCC Releases Eligible Services List for E-Rate School Bus Wi-Fi Funding

The Federal Communications Commission released the 2024 Eligible Services List and timeline for applications under its new Learning Without Limits initiative passed in October to extend E-Rate funds to school bus Wi-Fi hotspots.

Mobile broadband connectivity for school buses is now eligible as a Category One service and includes the equipment (antennas, routers, modems) as well as associated installation services, software and data service fees. This reduces the need for additional school district funding.

However, FCC said in releasing its ESL on Dec. 15 that it declined to make maintenance and operations services eligible, although that could be updated as the commission reviews the costs associated with services and equipment.

School districts that own, lease, or contract their buses are eligible to apply for funding.

Also announced last week, the Federal Communications Commission said it is committing over $450,000 in a new funding round of the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The ECF, which was established under the American Rescue Plan 2021, allows schools and libraries to apply for broadband connections. It also supports the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots for school buses. The ARP allocated a total of $7.17 billion with approximately $7.09 billion approved to date.

“By classifying essential school bus Wi-Fi equipment and installation as Category One E-Rate funding, the FCC has removed a major barrier and paves the way for millions of students,” commented Ben Weintraub, CEO of school bus Wi-Fi provider Kajeet.

School districts can leverage internet providers that offer multi-carrier and eSIM solutions to ensure complete coverage across their service areas. Districts such as those in rural areas may also utilize multiple network connections on the same bus if needed for a reliable connection.

FCC said it is focused on ensuring that funded equipment and services on school buses are used primarily for educational purposes and are otherwise consistent with E-Rate rules. User network restrictions should be consistent with building-based broadband networks, as described in their Acceptable Use Policies, and schools implement content filtering capabilities.

The commission also states that the use of E-Rate funded school bus Wi-Fi is only to be used during normal school bus operating hours, such as when students are being transported to and from school or other school-related activities, “or when there is a clear educational purpose for enabling school bus Wi-Fi connections outside of these hours,” the document states.

Occasionally used charter buses for field trips, municipal and city buses, and school district cars and vans are not eligible.

FCC added that it requires applicants to disable school bus E-Rate-funded Wi-Fi connections outside of these permitted uses.

“We find that our departure from our traditional E-Rate community use standards is justified in the school bus context given the increased potential for the use of school buses for private events, including for-profit events, that serve no role in closing the Homework Gap or in furthering students’ education,” the FCC stated. “While we decline to adopt a general community use provision in today’s order and require that school bus Wi-Fi connections be disabled outside of permissible educational purposes, we will monitor the implementation of the Wi-Fi on school buses and may revisit this determination in the future.”

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The commission adds that schools may enter into service contracts with multiple service providers. The FCC added that it is “concerned that buses in rural areas may be more likely to cross between service areas of multiple service providers along the same bus route, applicants with a rural designation may request funding for a solution that allows one bus to be served by multiple service providers,” the Eligible Services List states. “We remind all applicants that, pursuant to E-Rate program rules, they must select the most cost-effective service offering(s), using price of the eligible equipment and services as the primary factor.”

Additionally, the FCC states that applicants may request support for school bus Wi-Fi services and the necessary equipment to make it functional for installation on school-owned, as well as leased or contracted school buses as long as they are primarily used to transport students to and from school and school-related activities for educational purposes. However, this means occasionally used charted buses, municipal and city buses used for the transportation of non-students are not eligible.

The FCC added that services may be reimbursed for all 12 months of the year with no discounts or premiums during the summer months. The commission estimates that the cost of providing Wi-Fi for school buses is on average $1,840 per bus per year.

Two forms must be filled out to apply for E-rate funding. FCC Form 470, Description of Services Requested and Certification Form, is due on Feb. 28. The second form, Description of Services Ordered and Certification Form, is due March 27.

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