Tech, telecom giants donate $750 million in iPads, wireless service to schools

Several tech and telecom firms on Tuesday will announce $750 million in donations of free iPads, software and wireless service to U.S. schools, part of President Obama’s push to bolster the education system with better technology and faster Internet speeds.

Obama on Tuesday will announce the corporate commitments to his ConnectEd plan, which aims to bring the fastest Internet speeds and better devices to all U.S. schools by 2017. Only about 30 percent of schools have fast enough broadband speeds for students to access the Web and for teachers to stream videos and communicate with students online.

Apple has agreed to donate $100 million in free iPads, MacBooks and software to disadvantaged schools. AT&T will donate $100 million in free wireless broadband service to middle school students over three years. Sprint is also donating $100 million in free wireless service for up to 50,000 low-income high school students over a four-year period.

Other donations by design software maker Autodesk, Microsoft’s Office and Windows software, O’Reilly Media’s online textbooks and Verizon’s cash commitments bring the value of private sector contributions to more than $750 million, White House senior advisers told reporters in a conference call Monday evening.

“ConnectEd is about more than wires and wireless,” said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said in the call. “Let me complement these companies. Rather than simply go off on their own ... these companies have recognized a compelling national need for us to have high-speed broadband and to have the most modern, effective learning in classrooms.”

The White House initiative includes a doubling of Federal Communications Commission funds dedicated to the expansion of broadband connections to schools and libraries.

Obama will announce the corporate donations Tuesday with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and several high tech and telecom leaders, including Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son and chief executive Dan Hesse.

“This initiative will build on the efforts of today’s most innovative tech companies to help make our nation’s children better students, problem solvers, creative thinkers, and future leaders, while also training teachers to effectively use mobile technologies to improve student outcomes and prepare them for a competitive workforce,” Hesse said in a release.

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Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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