T-Mobile targets schoolwork gap with expanded $10B education initiative

T-Mobile today launched an expanded version of its previously announced Project 10Million initiative, adding options for more data to keep students connected as the school year starts up.

Now officially live, Project 10Million was one of three major promises T-Mobile committed to while it successfully fought for approval to merge with Sprint. The other two pledges included new low-cost prepaid plans and free 5G service for first responders, which have already launched.

As a combined company, T-Mobile pledged $10 billion over five years to deliver internet service to 10 million student households to help close the homework gap. The operator cited the expanded reach and capacity its wireless network thanks to the Sprint integration as a key factor in making reliable connectivity accessible for students.  

In a video about the launch, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert announced an expansion to Project 10Million. By partnering with school districts, $10.7 billion initiative is targeting every unconnected student in the U.S. in an effort to eradicate the homework gap. Now it also comes with two more options for additional data to help address the schoolwork gap.

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Through school districts, the original program includes free mobile hotspots, 100 GB of data per year for five years, and access to at-cost laptops and tablets for eligible student households.

As the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools have shifted to remote online learning. To that end, T-Mobile has set its sights on addressing a growing disparity of students unable to participate in classes virtually.

“What was the homework gap turned into an even more pressing schoolwork gap,” Sievert stressed.  

Since March, T-Mobile’s connected 1.6 million kids across 3,100 school districts with free or highly subsidized internet service. Even before the pandemic hit, T-Mobile and Sprint connected more than 500,000 students nationwide through the EmpowerED and 1Milion project.

Prior to the pandemic, more than 9 million of school-age children in the U.S. didn’t have access to reliable internet to finish after-school work, T-Mobile noted.

“Now with the start of the school year and 50 million students expected to be doing at least some portion of school remotely, this issue is even bigger than anyone could have predicted,” Sievert said in the video. “In this climate students without reliable internet connectivity face a total disconnect from their virtual classroom.”

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Mike Katz leads T-Mobile’s Education team and during the video said that in New York alone T-Mobile is helping more than 350,000 students with iPads and wireless data for virtual classes. Partnerships with the California Department of Education and Apple are providing students with up to 1 million connected iPads.

Schools have been asking for more flexibility, according to Katz, forming the basis of the expanded Project 10Million initiative.

All the freebies are still involved, which are valued around $500 per student household. Now, however, schools can also apply that amount to one of two additional plans that provide more data. Option one includes 100 GB of data per month for $12 per month, while the second offers unlimited LTE data starting at $15 per month – but still no cost to students.  
How many districts will need that much data remains to be seen. Katz noted that 100 GB per month is about triple the amount of data T-Mobile saw students use at the start of the pandemic this past spring.

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“The goal is to address the increased need for bandwidth at schools as they move into a fully virtual environment,” Katz said in the video.

School districts apply for the free program on behalf of students, who must participate in the National School Lunch Program to be eligible. The expanded low-cost data options are available to schools who can then pass on to all students, regardless of NSLP participation.

As for devices, T-Mobile is providing Franklin Wireless T9 hotspots. For those without home devices, districts can purchase a laptop or tablet at cost that T-Mobile then ships. Those options include the Coolpad Tasker tablet, Samsung Chromebook 4, Lenovo 100e Chromebook, or the Lenovo 100e Windows PC.

T-Mobile isn’t the only operator working to connect students as some schools implement various forms of distance learning this year.

Verizon started its own initiative in response to the pandemic, with the goal of delivering reliable internet, devices, and other education services to every K-12 student in the U.S. The carrier recently expanded its Distance Learning Program and now has agreements that cover 38 states and the District of Columbia. The program offers discounted unlimited 4G LTE service plans, along with mobile device management and security solutions for educational use.