One million disadvantaged U.S. high school students whose families can't afford internet access for their schoolwork will be eligible to get a free smartphone, tablet, laptop or hotspot device and mobile services from Sprint for up to four years each under a new program unveiled by the carrier.
The "1Million Project" will provide about 200,000 free mobile devices and free high-speed mobile internet accounts per year for five years, ultimately reaching 1 million students, according to an Oct. 11 announcement from Sprint and the Sprint Foundation.
The idea for the project is to help provide a means for disadvantaged high school students to gain access to the internet at home so they can complete their homework, communicate with teachers and apply for jobs, scholarships or colleges as part of their studies, according to Sprint. The lack of efficient internet access in the homes of disadvantaged students is described as the "Homework Gap," because it puts low-income students at a major disadvantage to students who have such capabilities.
"Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning," Marcelo Claure, the CEO of Sprint, 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. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections."
Low-income households with children are four times more likely to be without broadband than middle- or upper-income households and their chances for success in society are "significantly reduced" because at least 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires web access, according to a report from the Federal Communications Commission's Broadband Task Force. The lack of home internet access is also a hindrance for parents of the students, since many schools use online grading systems to keep parents informed of their child's academic progress.
"The Kansas City Public Library is excited to endorse the new Sprint program to offer free data, email, and text to disadvantaged students in our community," Crosby Kemper III, the director of the Kansas City Public Library, said in a statement. "We intend to be a participant and sponsor of the program and look to expand its reach in partnership with the Kansas City School District and the City of Kansas City. We are proud of our hometown company Sprint for producing a program that could become a model nationwide for closing the homework gap."
To administer the project, Sprint said it will work with non-profit agencies including EveryoneOn and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to help to recruit community organizations such as schools, libraries, public housing authorities and others to prepare and distribute the devices and services to low-income students.
The devices and services on the Sprint network will be provided to the high school students for up to four years while they are in school. The groups that work with Sprint to distribute the devices will help determine whether the individual students receive smartphones, tablets, laptops or hotspot devices under the program.
Each student participant will receive a mobile plan with up to 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month for their schoolwork. Unlimited data after 3GB will be provided at 2G speeds. Students who receive a smartphone can use it as a hotspot and for unlimited domestic calls and texts while on the Sprint network.
The program will be supported through equipment donations from device manufacturers as well will through fundraising efforts, special events, donation drives and other activities, according to Sprint.
The program will begin in January 2017 with pilot projects in seven to 10 markets, which will prepare organizers for a nationwide rollout at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Also in October, Sprint unveiled its latest Unlimited Freedom for Business mobile phone plans that cut costs for business users compared to Sprint's previous pricing plans and provide unlimited talk, texting and 4G LTE data while users are on the company's network.