Bill Would Make School Bus WiFi Eligible for E-Rate Reimbursement

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New Mexico Democrats Sen. Tom Udall and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland introduced a bill to make it easier to deploy wireless internet in school buses, to help students without broadband access at home, get online. The measure would require the FCC to reimburse school districts that deploy WiFi on school busses via the agency’s E-Rate program. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) cosponsored the bill in the Senate.

“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 Udall.

 “It’s time to end the homework gap and set our kids up for success.”

When one-fifth of our students can’t log on to further their studies, we’re creating a digital divide that will have impacts long after graduation,” Luján added.

The bill was inspired by an idea proposed by Jonah Madrid, a student-athlete from Hatch, New Mexico. In 2016, during a roundtable on the homework gap at Hatch Valley High School, Madrid told Udall and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel that after traveling hours on the bus to football games, he would sit in the dark school parking lot late at night to do his homework because that was the only place he could access wireless internet. Madrid proposed putting wireless technology on his school bus to allow him and his teammates make use of their long bus rides.

Supporters include the School Superintendents Association, the Competitive Carriers Association and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Wireless, a Navajo-owned communications company. Tribal communities are hit particularly hard by the digital divide, with approximately 76 percent of Tribal members living in rural New Mexico unable to access the internet at home, according to the announcement.

March 14, 2019

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