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Throwing Kids’ Health Under the Bus? FCC Wants to Put Wi-Fi on School Buses


Citing mental and physical health concerns, parents, politicians and safe technology advocates are pushing back against an FCC initiative to put Wi-Fi on school buses.

Parents, politicians and safe technology advocates are pushing back against a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiative to put Wi-Fi on school buses.

Patricia Burke of Safe Tech International in an April 29 Substack post accused the federal regulatory agency for telecommunications of being “the bully boarding the bus.”

Burke cited evidence of eye damage from excessive screen time and the risk of exposing kids to increased cyberbullying and addictive social media apps via unsupervised internet access while riding to and from school.

“It is time to stop throwing children’s health, including eyesight and mental well-being, under the bus,” Burke said.

Last October the FCC announced it would allow money from its E-Rate programto fund the installation of Wi-Fi on school buses starting in fiscal year 2024.

The E-Rate program is funded through taxes on consumers’ phone bills, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

The program is designed to make “telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries.” But the FCC argued that expanding it to include internet services on school buses was warranted to “ensure that the millions of students caught in the Homework Gap can more fully engage in their learning.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the program’s expansion would especially help kids who live in rural areas, where broadband connections are sparse, and who ride long distances on the bus.

Soon after the FCC’s announcement, parents Maurine and Matthew Molakchallenged the FCC’s initiative in court.

The Molaks, whose 16-year-old son died as a result of cyberbullying, are co-founders of David’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit working to stop cyberbullying of children and teens “through education, legislation and legal action.”

On Dec. 20, 2023, they filed a petition for review before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, arguing the FCC’s ruling to allow E-Rate funding for school bus Wi-Fi “exceeds the FCC’s statutory authority” and is undermining their nonprofit’s mission to eradicate cyberbullying by “enabling unsupervised social-media access by children and teenagers.”

“When it came to my attention,” Maurine Molak told The Defender, “that our own federal government had decided to fund kids’ unsupervised access to the internet on school buses, I felt I needed to take action.”

She said the FCC’s decision would exacerbate cyberbullying and kids’ exposure to harmful and addictive social media.

“I ask myself, why is the FCC creating new opportunities for online bullying, for girls to develop eating disorders, and for increased emotional distress? That’s why I’m fighting to get it [the FCC’s ruling] overturned,” she added.

Senators support lawsuit against FCC

The FCC on Feb. 6 moved to dismiss the Molaks’ lawsuit.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other senators on April 9 filed an amicus brief in support of the Molaks’ case.

An amicus brief is filed by non-parties to litigation to provide information that has a bearing on the issues and assist the court in reaching the correct decision.

“Addictive and distracting social media apps are wreaking havoc on our kids,” Cruz said in an April 11 statement. “The FCC’s decision to fund children’s unsupervised access to social media on bus rides to and from school is both dangerous and unlawful.”

Joining Cruz in filing the amicus brief were Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.).

The senators claimed the FCC’s move to expand E-Rate funding to cover Wi-Fi on school buses is illegal because federal law confines the use of such funding to “classrooms and libraries.”

According to a press release, by expanding E-Rate subsidies to school buses, “the agency is attempting to extend a separate, temporary COVID-era program — the Emergency Connectivity Fund … which the FCC cannot do without specific congressional direction.”

The Emergency Connectivity Fund previously helped schools obtain wireless internet infrastructure to support remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ostensibly, schools were able to use the funds to get Wi-Fi on school buses.

The amicus brief stated:

“Whether the FCC should fund Internet access beyond the school classroom or library — such as making Wi-Fi available to unsupervised children on school buses — and with what safeguards is a fiercely debated legislative question.

“While Congress decided to expand such access with appropriated funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, that program sunsets on June 30, 2024. Once limitations are set by Congress, they must be followed — not thwarted — by the federal regulators charged with their enforcement.”

Additionally, Cruz, Budd and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in October 2023 introduced legislation that would limit school children’s use of social media apps by prohibiting schools or school districts from receiving E-Rate or Emergency Connectivity Fund subsidies unless they prohibit access to social media on subsidized networks and devices.

The proposed legislation, called the “Eyes on the Board Act of 2023,” would “promote parental limits and transparency on screen time” by requiring schools receiving E-Rate subsidies to adopt a screen time policy as a condition of receiving federal funding.

The bill also would require the FCC to create a database of schools’ internet safety policies.

School bus Wi-Fi poses health risks to kids

Meanwhile, other critics of putting Wi-Fi on school buses said it could jeopardize kids’ health in ways beyond social media addiction and cyberbullying.

Burke pointed out that neuropsychiatrist Dr. Ooha Susmita told Business Insider that reading in a moving vehicle can cause motion sickness because it creates a “sensory mismatch.”

The passenger’s inner ear perceives the motion of the moving car, while their eyes are tracking the stationary book or screen.

“This sensory conflict, leading to a disruption in the body’s normal sense of balance,” Susmita said, “can result in symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, and sometimes, vomiting.”

Excessive use of a smartphone may be linked to myopia — or nearsightedness— according to a 2021 peer-reviewed systematic review published in The Lancet Digital Health.

As The Defender reported, the authors of a February 2023 review of the latest science on pediatric health and electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) radiation concluded that children are “uniquely vulnerable” to the EMR/RF radiation emitted by wireless devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

The authors, including lead author Devra Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H., were “distinguished experts in medicine, epidemiology, toxicology, physics, biochemical engineering and public health who collectively have publishedmore than 1,000 papers.”

In their review, Davis and her co-authors referenced more than 200 studies that associate wireless EMF/RF radiation with negative biological effects includingoxidative stress and DNA damage, cardiomyopathy, carcinogenicity, sperm damage, memory damage and neurological effects.

Children’s unique physiology, including smaller heads and more fluid in their brains, results in proportionately greater absorption of RF radiation than adults, they said.

For instance, children can absorb up to 30 times more the amount of RF radiation in their hippocampus and 10 times more in the bone marrow of their skull.

Davis said, “The science indicates that wireless radiation acts like a classicendocrine disruptor” and can impair memory, behavior, fertility and brain development, as well as lead to cancer and neurological illness.

The FCC did not immediately respond to The Defender’s request for comment about its E-Rate program funding.


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