President Obama traveled to a middle school in suburban Washington to announce that more than a billion dollars in commitments from U.S. companies will help him meet his goal of providing every American student with Internet access.
“My country invested in me,” Obama told students, staff and local officials at Buck Lodge Middle School. “I want America to now invest in you.”
The corporate contributors are among the nation’s largest profit-makers: Apple is pledging $100 million in iPads, computers and other tools; AT&T and Sprint are contributing free Internet service; Verizon is giving up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions, while Microsoft is making its Windows software available at discounted prices and offering 12 million free copies of Microsoft Office software, which will total a savings of more than $1 billion.
‘‘In a country where we expect free WiFi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools,’’ Obama said.
Obama chose the Buck Lodge school because students there are assigned iPads that they use in class and at home. Obama knew from his own household an additional benefit to the iPads: Students have lighter backpacks because they don’t have to carry as many books to and from school.
‘‘Sasha’s book bag gets too big sometimes, hurts her back,’’ he said of his younger daughter, a seventh-grader at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in D.C.
In addition to the donations from private companies, the Federal Communications Commission also is setting aside $2 billion from service fees to connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to high-speed Internet over two years.
Last year the president said he wanted to bring high-speed Internet service to 99 percent of students within five years—even if he had to act without Congress.
‘‘We picked up the phone and we started asking some outstanding business leaders to help bring our schools and libraries into the 21st century,’’ the president said.
The president pointed out that only about 30 percent of American students have true high-speed Internet in their classrooms, compared with 100 percent of South Korean students.
Gene Sperling, a top White House economist, pointed out during a conference call that the problem is more pronounced in low-income neighborhoods where students are less likely to have Internet connections at home. With digital learning, he said, it’s easier for schools to cater to the needs of students who need extra help or who are ahead of the curve.
‘‘This for us really isn’t about what Congress will or won’t do,’’ Rose Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, told the Associated Press in an interview. ‘‘It’s really about the kids. I believe it makes perfect sense that we use our technology, our resources, our insight to have an impact.’’