School buses are once again in the national spotlight as SpaceX seeks to mount its Starlink satellite internet constellation on the yellow vehicles to make it easier for students across the US to access the internet.
SpaceX believes Starlink is the best service to fill the homework gap, as the technology promises to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband to the most remote parts of the country at a reasonable cost. SpaceX has deployed over 3,000 satellites to date and has also developed a high-power dish that allows the company to offer mobile services.
In partnership with school districts, SpaceX is conducting pilots in rural areas to support students who travel long distances to school buses. The company’s goal is to convert “driving time into connected time”. The piloted bus routes are reportedly more than 60 minutes each and mostly inaccessible to other mobile broadband services.
David Goldman, senior director of satellite policy at SpaceX, sent a letter to Marlene Dortch, the secretary of the Federal Communications Commission, on Tuesday. The letter said the company agrees with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that providing Wi-Fi on school buses is critical to closing the homework gap. The letter goes on to say that such a service should be eligible for e-rate support, which has not been allowed for school buses in the past.
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“SpaceX supports the Commission’s efforts to enable funding for the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support Mechanism (better known as the “E-Rate Program”) and connect millions of students across the US whose broadband internet needs are not yet met is,” the letter explains. “SpaceX is committed to ensuring access to high-speed, low-latency broadband services to serve American students as quickly as possible, not only at home but also on the way to and from school. In fact, SpaceX has prioritized connecting otherwise underserved schools and libraries in the most remote parts of the country, including in tribal areas.”
The letter notes that the Commission should act quickly to expand the e-rate scheme by ensuring that access to high-speed broadband service on school buses is an eligible facility.
In accordance with the American Rescue Plan, the FCC adopted the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which supported services that went beyond E-Rate, such as B. Funding broadband services on school buses that transport students to and from school.
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“As this program is being terminated, these critical student services are now at risk,” the SpaceX letter continued. “Delivering new funding for these mobile services is paramount, as in many cases these students do not have a high-throughput, low-latency option available, not only on the way to school but also at home.”
Goldman adds in the letter that a Pew Research Center study conducted last year showed that 17 million US college students do not have Internet access at home. Low-income students are disproportionately affected, and one-third (35 percent) of households with children ages 6 to 17 and annual incomes of less than $30,000 do not have high-speed Internet access at home.
“And many students who need the most support live miles from school, with long commutes to work but disconnected,” writes Goldman. “Subsidized funding like the E-Rate program should address digital equity and enable better educational opportunities for students across the US by ensuring access to high-speed internet at home and on the way to school.”
SpaceX says that when E-Rate is updated to include school buses, funding for those services, like SpaceX’s mobile antennas that can instantly provide Wi-Fi on school buses, will benefit students across the US at home and on school bus routes .