May 28 2024

What Schools Should Know About Using E-Rate Funds for Bus Wi-Fi Upgrades

Extending Wi-Fi to buses supports after-school learning and reduces the homework gap.

For decades we have known that for many underprivileged students, leaving the school grounds contributes to a homework gap because they cannot do much schoolwork without a robust internet connection. Bus Wi-Fi could fill a need for the millions of students who have a school-issued laptop but no reliable internet at home.

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission added school bus Wi-Fi to the list of services eligible for E-Rate funding in Category 1. A vital funding source for schools and libraries, E-Rate funds can offset up to 90 percent of the cost of bus Wi-Fi equipment, installation and configuration, plus necessary accessories and monthly service fees.

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With E-Rate funding, schools can add internet to more school buses or mobile science, technology, engineering and math labs. With internet on buses, students on their daily commute or traveling for field trips or athletic activities can get extra time for homework, projects or studying.

Plan Ahead to Catch the Next E-Rate Filing Window

The E-Rate window for the next school year recently closed and won’t reopen for the 2025-2026 school year until early next year. However, the form 470 window opens in a few weeks, on July 1. This is the first step in the E-Rate process. Schools can use this time to learn more about how to apply for those funds and have bus Wi-Fi installed by summer 2025.

READ MORE: Get answers to your frequently asked questions about E-Rate.

How Bus Wi-Fi Impacts School Technology Departments

School IT teams should know that while signal strength over cellular wireless depends on nearby topography and cell towers, this type of wireless connectivity has come a long way. With enterprise-grade cellular wireless routers, students using bus Wi-Fi should receive consistent internet access.

Essential Tools: Experienced IT teams that are already managing modern networks to support a 21st-century learning environment should have no problems integrating bus Wi-Fi. IT can extend the school network into a mobile environment using a ruggedized software-defined WAN router, antenna, cellular services and accessories. These tools will allow for integration of the device on the edge of the school network.

Compliance and Management: Being on the edge of the school network is important because schools that provide internet access must comply with federal Children’s Internet Protection Act regulations that require content filtering for students. Some providers include CIPA compliance as an eligible cost. Additionally, in most cases, mobile cellular routers are as easy to manage as in-building hardware, and preconfigured solutions are also available.  


The percentage of E-Rate applicant survey respondents who expressed support for using E-rate funds for bus Wi-Fi

Source: Funds For Learning, “2023 E-Rate Trends Report,” October 2023

Service Providers: Along with major U.S. cellular carriers, other cellular providers have offerings geared to education environments that include data management controls, CIPA-compliant content filtering and time-of-day controls with reporting to conform to FCC rules.  

Flexible Installation: Schools can choose either portable or hardwired installation. The former is ideal for schools that don’t own their buses; the driver can simply carry the router on and off the bus. This is also helpful for schools that lease out their buses for community events. Because the Wi-Fi is exclusively for learning, schools can use management software to turn the device off and on during specific times of the days and for specific purposes.

DIG DEEPER: K–12 schools use mixed and virtual reality to prepare students for careers.

Bus Wi-Fi Serves as Foundation for Other Essential Technology

Connecting to learning tools while on the bus is only one of the benefits of mobile Wi-Fi. It also serves as a foundation for other essential technologies, such as surveillance cameras, GPS for wayfinding, fleet maintenance, and student badges enabled by radio-frequency ID.

CDW has worked with many customers to install bus Wi-Fi, and many of them tell us that students behave better when there is connectivity on the bus. Overall, Wi-Fi on school buses leads to improved outcomes at a relatively small out-of-pocket cost for individual schools.

To start your bus Wi-Fi journey, contact your account manager or send us an email at to begin the conversation today.

UP NEXT: Understanding FERPA, CIPA and other K–12 student data privacy laws.

This article is part of the ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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