President Obama promised a major push at the State of the Union address to bring broadband access to schools through “philanthropic partnerships.” On Tuesday the philanthropy part of that initiative began to emerge. Apple(s aapl), Microsoft(s msft), AT&T(s t), Verizon(s vz), Sprint(s s), Autodesk(s adsk) and O’Reilly Media have collectively pledged hundreds of million of dollars in software, hardware, services and even some hard cash to the project.
“Today the average school has the same internet bandwidth as the average home,” President Obama said at speech detailing the ConnectEd initiative at the Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md. Divided among hundreds of students, even a fast residential connection amounts to dial-up speeds for each pupil.
The project is intended to connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students with wired and wireless broadband infrastructure in the next two years. The Federal Communications Commission has is restructuring the controversial E-Rate education program, pledging $2 billion in annual funding to the project. But some $750 million in in-kind contributions is coming from the tech and telecom sectors.
AT&T and Verizon each said they would commit up to $100 million to the project in the form of free wireless and wireline broadband connections, professional training services to teachers on how to use technology in the classroom and hard cash. Sprint and its majority owner SoftBank didn’t give a dollar figure, but it did state a goal of connecting 50,000 low-income students in grades K-12 over the next four years.
Microsoft’s contribution is coming in the form of software and services, including its Windows 8.1 OS, its Office 365 Education collaboration and communication suite, access to ad-free search through Bing for Schools, teacher and student training, and hardware subsidies. Microsoft didn’t put a value on the contribution, except to say that the initiative would help schools save up to $1 billion in costs.
Apple is providing $100 million in MacBooks, iPads, software and IT support. Autodesk is extending is expanding its Design for the Future program to U.S. secondary schools, offering up $250 million worth of free drafting software and design curriculum. O’Reilly Media is partnering with Safari Books Online to make $100 million in educational content and learning tools available gratis to schools nationwide.
Obama said he would also ask Congress to kick in, passing legislation that will fund training programs for teachers who use technology in the classroom.
Classroom photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Losevsky Photo and Video