March 12, 2019

Luján, Welch, Haaland Introduce Legislation to Provide Internet Access on School Buses to Bridge Digital Divide

Today, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, along with Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Deb Haaland (D-NM), introduced legislation to install wireless internet on school buses to help students without access to broadband complete their homework and connect to the web.

Millions of students need access to the internet to complete their assignments, but studies estimate that one-in-five students lack that access in their homes. This gap especially impacts low-income, rural, and tribal students who must find other ways to get online to complete their homework – often working out of school parking lots late into the night or walking miles to find a reliable signal.

The legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission’s 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 by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

“Our students should be given every opportunity to succeed in their schoolwork. Today, that means having access to a reliable Internet connection to complete homework, study, and explore academic pursuits. 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,” said Luján. “I’ve heard from students and teachers about the burdens they face each day and I’m proud to lead on this effort that will help connect communities in New Mexico and across the country, so students face fewer hurdles on their road to success.” 

“In today’s digital age, students need internet access at school and home to complete their work, learn and grow. But one-third of students from low-income and rural households can’t access the Internet from home, which puts them at an increasingly significant disadvantage to their urban and suburban peers. Congress must address this critical homework gap with innovative solutions to expand internet access for our students,” said Welch. “By enabling students to access the internet to complete their assignments on the bus, this commonsense legislation will help close the digital divide that is hamstringing students in Vermont and across the country.”

“Kids deserve the tools they need to succeed, but one of the biggest hurdles students in New Mexico face is the digital divide. Nowadays, access to the internet is imperative for school work and also prepares students for the technological world we live in. By ensuring school buses have wi-fi, we’re adding another access point to resources that help students succeed,” said Haaland.

“The homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide. But with Wi-Fi on school buses we can turn ride time into connected time to give students the broadband access they need to do their homework. Kudos to Reps. Lujan, Welch, and Haaland for their important work to make this happen,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Clyde Casciato, NTUA Wireless General Manager said, “Those living on the Navajo Nation know firsthand that internet access is too often not available at home or in their community, making it nearly impossible for students to complete homework assignments and research projects. In trials where NTUAW has partnered with Kayenta Unified School District to provide this service on three different school bus routes, the technology worked successfully and has been used regularly by students to complete assignments.  With this service, students are able to take advantage of what would otherwise be lost hours on the school bus each day to continue their education.  E-Rate funds are necessary to support this initiative, or it will never become a reality for most schools as they cannot afford to take on the expense of this additional service. Without a doubt, expanding E-Rate funds to include internet access on school buses will impact the quality of education received by so many students on the Navajo Nation. On behalf of NTUAW, I want to thank you for advocating to fund this service and look forward to the opportunity to partner with schools to get it deployed on school buses throughout the Navajo Nation.”

“Access to educational resources is just one of the many benefits that robust mobile broadband can bring to communities across the country,” said Steven K. Berry, President & CEO, Competitive Carriers Association. “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.”

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