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Local firms giving $350 million to U.S. schools (w/video)

  • President Barack Obama speaks to students and teachers, Education Department and Maryland officials at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, about the progress toward his ConnectED goal of connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years. President Obama has secured commitments from U.S. companies worth about $750 million to get more students connected to high-speed Internet. AT&T, Sprint, Apple and Microsoft are among the companies pitching in. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The two donations, announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama, are part of a package of commitments by seven U.S. companies valued at more than $750 million. Obama hailed the ConnectED program, which he initiated last summer, as a way to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education as they prepare to compete in the global economy.

"In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools," Obama said at a middle school in the Washington suburb of Adelphi, Md.

AT-T and Sprint each pledged more than $100 million in free wireless connections for middle- and high-school students, while Verizon will give up to $100 million in cash and services. Apple promised to give iPads, MacBooks and other devices worth $100 million to disadvantaged schools. Microsoft pledged to discount the price of its Windows operating system, decreasing the price of Windows-based devices.

O'Reilly Media will team with Safari Books Online, which it formed in 2001 as a joint venture with Pearson Education, to participate in the White House program. O'Reilly Media spokeswoman Sara Peyton declined to discuss the initiative and said no one from the company was available to speak Tuesday.

"Technical literacy is essential for today's students, if they're to succeed in school and in the work world," O'Reilly Media President Laura Baldwin said in a statement. "We're pleased to help them gain that knowledge, through this donation to America's schools."

The news comes one day after the Federal Communications Commission announced it would set aside $2 billion from service fees to connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to high-speed Internet over two years.

Obama last year announced his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to 99 percent of students within five years. He used Tuesday's announcement as another example of how to act without waiting on 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 average school has the same Internet speed as an average home, but serves 200 times as many people, Obama said. About 30 percent of students have true high-speed Internet in their classrooms, compared with 100 percent of South Korean students, he said.

He said the pledges would put the world and outer space at every child's fingertips. Before the speech, Obama visited a seventh-grade classroom and noted one benefit of their Internet access: lighter knapsacks because they don't carry as many books to and from school.

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