Sprint to Offer 1M Low-Income Students Free Devices, Data

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The Internet is a blessing to many a school-aged kid trying to get through the night's homework assignment, but what if your home has no Internet access? It happens all too often in poorer neighborhoods, but Sprint's new initiative will provide 1 million high school students with free devices and wireless connections.

The 1Million Project is a multi-year plan to connect low-income US high school students lacking a reliable source of Internet access at home. The pilot program is set to launch in January in seven to 10 markets, where students will receive a free smartphone, tablet, laptop, or hotspot device and 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month—for up to four years.

A refined version will roll out nationwide for the start of the 2017-18 school year.

"Education is the foundation of our society to prosper, and the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement. "But it's a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack Internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them."

The program aims to help eliminate the "homework gap" whereby underprivileged kids can't easily complete assignments, communicate with teachers, or apply for jobs, scholarships, and college because they don't have Internet access at home. It currently affects 5 million US families, who risk falling behind as teachers assign homework that requires Web access.

As the Pew Research Center notes, low-income households often rely on smartphones for Internet access, as they cannot afford to also pay for a wired Internet connection in the home. About 13 percent of households making less than $30,000 per year are smartphone-dependent, compared to 1 percent of homes bringing in more than $75,000 per year, according to 2015 stats.

Without being able to rely on Wi-Fi in the home, however, it's easy for people to blaze through monthly data allotments, so 3GB of free high-speed LTE data per month would likely be welcome in many low-income households.

Sprint is teaming up with nonprofits EveryoneOn and My Brother's Keeper Alliance to recruit schools, libraries, public housing authorities, charities to participate.

"The 1Million Project will not only unlock latent talent and potential in 1 million young people, but will also serve as a model of innovative private sector support for the next generation—our nation's future leaders, employees, and consumers," said Blair Taylor, CEO of My Brother's Keeper Alliance.

The Alliance is a public-private partnership in which President Obama has been deeply involved. In 2014, he signed a Presidential Memorandum that established the My Brother's Keeper Task Force, which examines persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color.

Earlier this year, Obama said he wants to connect 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020. To start, the administration gave its support to the Federal Communication Commission's plan to update a Reagan-era telecom subsidy to include broadband. Introduced in 1985, the Lifeline program provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers. In April, the agency updated it to include Internet service, too.

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