We know from the annual E-rate Trends Report that Wi-Fi access is essential for K-12 schools and libraries. 99% of them say it is, and 64% of them believe school bus Wi-Fi should qualify for E-rate discounts. So, it was welcome news this week when the FCC announced a proposal to provide E-rate funding for school bus Wi-Fi. Students should have an Internet connection anywhere they need one, and it makes complete and utter sense for the E-rate program to offer coverage on buses. Students should not be penalized based on interpretations of obscure regulations that bear no resemblance to the real world experience of a student. Afterall, from a student’s perspective, their internet connection should be the same, regardless of whether they are in a classroom, cafeteria, or school bus. Thank you, Chairwoman Rosenworcel for leading the charge on this.
This leads us to a rather interesting question: why stop there? Or an even better question: why start there? If you were to ask schools and libraries what they need from the E-rate program, school bus Wi-Fi would be on the list… but it would be at the bottom of the list. Literally. We know this because we asked them a year ago. And this is what they told us. 64% of applicants say school bus Wi-Fi should be supported. But check out the support for other items on the list.
At the top of the list, rolling in at nearly 100% support, is network security. Schools and libraries need firewalls and other protection. They also need high-availability internet access, and access to voice over IP telecommunications (VoIP). They even would like support for old fashioned telephone service. There is a higher need for each of those services than there is for school bus Wi-Fi. That is not to say school bus Wi-Fi is not needed. It certainly is, but not to the same extent that those other items are needed, particularly cybersecurity.
Interestingly, when it comes to the current E-rate regulations, fully supporting network firewalls is much less of a stretch then adding school bus Wi-Fi. Read the petition for cybersecurity submitted by the Consortium for School Networking, and you will see that modern firewalls should be funded today. Yet, without explanation, the FCC has been sitting on the CoSN petition for 16 months, refusing to even seek public comment on it.
Could we at least have a debate about funding firewalls and other security? The FCC needs to listen to its constituents. The next step in the E-rate program, before expanding access to more devices at more locations, is to secure the existing networks. Schools and libraries need more support for cybersecurity, and then they need the option to seek support for Wi-Fi hot spots where needed… including on school buses.
What do you think should qualify for E-rate discounts? Is school bus Wi-Fi the right choice? The annual survey of E-rate applicants is open through May 27, 2022. All school and library officials are invited to take this anonymous survey. Let the FCC know which goods and services you think should receive E-rate support.