ConnectED to bring tech to schools

WASHINGTON D.C. (WKBN) – Several telecommunications companies across the U.S. have collaborated on an initiative to bring broadband Internet access to rural school districts.

President Barack Obama has secured commitments from U.S. companies worth about $750 million to get more students connected to high-speed Internet. He first proposed the idea a year ago.

AT&T, Sprint, Apple and Microsoft are among the companies pitching in to ConnectED. Obama announced the commitments Tuesday at a middle school in the Maryland suburbs near Washington.

The Federal Communications Commission plans to devote $2 billion generated from service fees to connecting 20 million students.  The initiative also will add an additional $2 billion into the FCC’s E-Rate Program, which discounts school districts’ technology bills.

President Obama would like to see 99 percent of schools in the U.S. using high-speed Internet within the next five years.

The White House says Apple is pledging $100 million in iPads, computers and other tools. AT&T and Sprint are contributing free wireless service. And Microsoft is making Windows available at a discounted price and offering 12 million free copies of Microsoft Office software.

Bryan O’Hara, Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Trumbull County Educational Service Center, said anything that can help a school district with 21st century technology is welcome.

“Teaching has changed over the past decade. We used to think that achievement was just acquiring the information. But now we can get that information quickly through a digital source. And now how can the students evaluate it, synthesize it and make decisions,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said Trumbull County districts have been actively preparing and upgrading their Internet technology in anticipation of the “next generation of online assessments” targeted for spring 2015.

“Districts had to take inventory on broadband and the number of devices in the building. They had to paint a picture of where they are at,” said O’Hara. “A lot of our districts are in good shape. We have anticipated the demand.”

“We’re excited that this program is going to be adding more money to that program. So that will make it more available to schools in this area,” said John  LaPlante, executive director of ACCESS.

While a timetable has not been set as to when or how the $750 million will be dispersed to the nation’s school districts, O’Hara said any help in providing upgrades and access to information technology is appreciated.

Companies and agencies contributing to ConnectED:

  • Apple – Pledged $100 million in iPads, MacBooks, and other products along with content and professional development tools to enrich learning in disadvantaged schools.
  • AT&T – Pledged over $100 million to provide middle-school students free Internet connectivity for educational devices over their wireless network for three years.
  • Autodesk – Pledged to expand the company’s “Design the Future” program to be available to every secondary school in the country – offering for free over $250 million in value.
  • Microsoft – Committed to launch a substantial affordability program open to all U.S. public schools by deeply discounting the price of its Windows operating system, which will substantially bring down the cost of Windows-based devices. It also will offer 12 million free copies of Microsoft Office Software.
  • O’Reilly Media – Partnering with Safari Books Online to make over $100 million in educational content and tools available, for free, to every school in America.
  • Sprint – Committed to offer free wireless service for up to 50,000 low-income high school students over the next four years, valued at $100 million.
  • Verizon – Announced a multi-year program to support the ConnectED vision through $100 million in cash and in-kind commitments.

A $2 billion down-payment by the FCC’s E-Rate program will be included to connect 20 million more students to next-generation broadband and wireless, beginning in 2014. An additional commitment to rural schools will come in a $10 million in distance learning grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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