Verizon expands state deals for 4G LTE-connected distance learning

Verizon expanded its distance learning initiative, signing new agreements in Texas and Massachusetts to make it easier for up to 23.6 million students to access connectivity and tools as the school year starts amid an ongoing pandemic.

One thing that’s been made more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic is that connectivity is key and access isn’t equally available to all. Schools, teachers, and students also face different approaches to classes with online learning, in-person teaching and hybrid models.

Verizon started its Distance Learning Program in response to the pandemic. Its first agreement was with the Los Angeles Unified School District covering all of California. The aim of Verizon’s program is to deliver a reliable internet connection, devices, and other education services to every student in the U.S.

As part of the initiative, agreements span the full school year – running through June 2021 or the end of the pandemic, whichever goes longer, according to a Verizon spokesperson via email.

Now the carrier has agreements that cover 38 states and the District of Columbia. Under the deals, Verizon offers discounted unlimited 4G LTE service plans, as well as mobile device management (MDM) and certain security solutions for educational use.

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The two latest include sponsor-state partnerships with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The agreements cover or “sponsor” other neighboring states, meaning schools and districts those designated states can take advantage of the terms and pricing of the sponsor state’s deal.

The point is to make it quicker and easier to get students connected because schools and districts don’t need to negotiate their own deal or hit specific minimums, according to a Verizon spokesperson.

So Verizon’s deal with TEA extends to 15 other states around Texas, covering up to 18.9 million students at public schools in grades kindergarten through 12th. Those include Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The DESE agreement, meanwhile, covers up to 4.9 million students in Massachusetts and seven nearby states. Those states include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

To get students connected, schools or districts purchase the unlimited 4G LTE data plans or lines from Verizon. In terms of devices, that’s decided individually by schools or districts regarding their students’ needs and how they want to deliver internet access, according to the Verizon spokesperson.

That could mean buying devices like Jetpacks, tablets, or laptops from Verizon or adding the carrier’s data plans to existing devices. Schools could also opt to purchase direct from third parties and use the Verizon 4G TLE plans for connectivity. School districts and sometimes individual schools then choose how they want to distribute those devices and lines of 4G LTE service, the spokesperson added.

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Verizon also has a sponsor state agreement with the Georgia Department of Education, covering 12.5 million students in 10 U.S. states.

“As a nation and as an educational community, we are truly in this together as we respond to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a July statement. “This partnership allows us to come together with other states to leverage buying power and deliver connectivity solutions for our students.”

The carrier has two stand-alone deals with South Carolina and Oklahoma. In South Carolina, the carrier is partnering on connectivity for up to 150,000 students who don’t have internet access at home. A grant award to Oklahoma is going to see Verizon provide 50,000 4G LTE data plans and hotspots for low-income students, and provide technical support throughout the school year.

A release from the Oklahoma State Department of Education said school districts awarded hotspots pay a “nominal” monthly service fee for the unlimited 4G LTE service for at least six months. Districts also have the option to purchase additional hotspots for any student or teachers and staff at the same cost.