Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is calling on agency commissioners to support her proposal to allow funding from the FCC’s E-Rate program to support Wi-Fi service on school buses, and to support Wi-Fi hotspots so that libraries, school libraries, and schools can check them out to patrons or students in need.
The E-Rate program, launched in 1996, provides funds to libraries for basic internet connections. The FCC explained in a statement that since the creation of the E-Rate program, the commission has updated it from a program to connect libraries and schools to one that covers services including installing Wi-Fi throughout the building.
“At the FCC, we want to make sure that everyone, everywhere has access to high-speed internet service,” Rosenworcel said in a June 26 speech at the American Library Association’s annual conference.
“But we know millions of people in this country are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” she said. “Libraries help fill that gap. They have computer labs. They have classes to teach digital skills. And they help enroll people in our programs to support internet for all, like the Affordable Connectivity Program.”
“These efforts are on top of the day-to-day work you do to help people navigate information, get the facts they are searching for, the services they require, and the support they need to participate in modern life.,” Rosenworcel continued. “That’s why it’s time for the FCC to update its E-rate program to reflect these realities to better support libraries and the students and communities they serve.”
Much of the funding to help schools and libraries comes from the Federal Emergency Connectivity Fund, created by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $7.17 billion fund was designed to make sure that libraries and schools could connect patrons and students at home, with funding for devices and connectivity. To date, the program has helped over 17 million students get connected to their schools and teachers.
The E-Rate program changes being proposed by Rosenworcel will require the approval of a majority of FCC commissioners. The agency said it will soon release text of the proposal.