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As FCC considers bringing Wi-Fi to rural school buses, Vermont district showcases early efforts

Oct 10, 2023

The FCC is currently looking at proposals to fund Wi-Fi on school buses across the nation, and one Vermont school district is already implementing the technology in its vehicles.

The Central Vermont Supervisory Union is bringing Wi-Fi to its school buses that serve the Williamstown Middle/High School.

On Tuesday, school officials and students met with Vermont Sen. Peter Welch and Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to discuss how the initiative is helping to close the “homework gap” for students in rural Vermont.

“Rural America can’t be second-class America, it just can’t be,” said Welch during a roundtable discussion in the middle/high school.

Vermont is no exception to broadband challenges that are faced by many rural communities in the United States.

Many rural communities across the United States face challenges related to broadband access, and Vermont is no exception.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently looking at proposals to fund Wi-Fi on school buses across the nation through the E-Rate program.

“This is an infrastructure requirement on par with what we did for rural electricity a century ago,” Rosenworcel said.

She said that the lack of internet access in rural America impacts students’ performance, highlighting a “homework gap” that she said has become even more visible since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So many kids whose schools were assigning homework that required access to the internet didn’t have it,” Welch said.

Williamstown is one community that’s already gotten the wheels turning on solving that problem.

“Being able to work on the bus, I think, for a lot of kids is going to be downright revolutionary,” said Stephon Boatwright, a social studies teacher at Williamstown Middle/High School.

CVSU has a plan in place to bring high-speed internet to students while they commute to and from the building.

“Students would be able to access not only their various types of learning, but documents, videos, really the full classroom experience just coming to and from school,” Boatwright said.

The measure is intended to increase access for doing homework. However, educators said they know the students will use the Wi-Fi for other things too, like social media and streaming services.

“This is leveling the playing field, and whether that’s academically or socially, it’s giving everybody access to the same thing,” said Brooke Nadzam, the school’s librarian.

Students shared their thoughts as well. Riley Laggner, a junior at the school, said he believes internet on the bus would help some of his classmates keep up their grades while also participating in extracurriculars.

“Last year, I saw that there’s a lot of people who were falling behind in their classes at the end of the day, who were having to leave for other things,” Laggner said.

Rosenworcel said the majority of the FCC is in favor of funding initiatives like this across the country.

“I just feel that this effort to put Wi-Fi on our school buses could make a really meaningful difference for a whole bunch of students,” Rosenworcel said.

She said that the FCC will be holding a vote about funding for discounted Wi-Fi on school buses next week.

CVSU said it hopes to have the buses up and running with Wi-Fi by the end of winter break this year.

Story Written by Sid Bewlay, NBC5

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