President Obama announced Tuesday more than $750 million in charitable commitments from technology and telecom companies for a new effort to bring high-speed Internet to the classroom.
Speaking at a middle school in suburban Maryland on Tuesday, the president touted ConnectED — a program announced last year that aims to get nearly every classroom in America outfitted with high-speed Internet access.
"In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools," Obama said.
The president touted a $2 billion "down payment" from the Federal Communications Commission that will connect some 20 million students to high-speed Internet. That doubles the $1 billion initially expected from the agency for the program over the next two years.
Obama also announced more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in commitments from private companies "that are going to go a long way to realize that vision, where every child has access to the technology they can use to help them learn."
"They want educated customers — they're doing good, but it will also help them to succeed," Obama said.
The commitments include $100 million in laptops and iPads from Apple, 12 million free copies of Microsoft Windows, and $350 million in educational and design software from companies like O'Reilly Media and Autodesk.
"Education is in Apple's DNA, and we're passionate about helping inspire students around the world to learn in new ways using our innovative technology, incredible apps, interactive textbooks and customizable tools for teachers," said Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet. "We're gladly contributing more than $100 million in equipment and expertise to bring Apple's love of learning and our experience in the classroom to the schools that need it most.”
Three telecom companies — AT&T, Verizon and Sprint — have also pledged up to $100 million each in Internet connectivity services.
Obama noted that the bandwidth at most schools — where hundreds of students, teachers, and administrators were looking to get online — was, on average, about the same as the average home equipped with high-speed Internet access. Some 70 percent of American schools do not have the capacity for every student to work from a high-speed Internet connection.
"Imagine what it could mean for a girl growing up on a farm to take AP biology...even if her school’s too small to offer it," Obama said. "Imagine what it could mean for a boy with an illness that confines him to his home to join his classmates."
The FCC funding, which will help schools and libraries pay for IT infrastructure and Internet service, is paid for by fees on monthly phone bills.
"The vision was always with the support of the FCC and moving forward on [the president's] vision that it would be the type of educational challenge that would take a village, and the village would respond," White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said.
Sperling said on Monday that the additional money came from "reprioritizing and reallocating" the FCC's existing budget, but it remains unclear whether the agency will increase service rates on cellphone bills. The White House deferred questions about a possible rate increase to the FCC.
Separately, the president called on Congress to fund additional teacher training to better prepare educators to use technology in the classroom
"Technology is not a silver bullet," Obama "It is only as good as the teachers who are there using it to inspire and teach and help work through projects."
Obama first announced the ConnectEd program a year ago and promoted it again during his State of the Union address last week.
--This post was updated at 12:25 p.m.