I didn't get my first cellphone when I was 17. It was a brick, and the only thing it could do was call people. The phone couldn't even text, and it certainly couldn't connect to the Internet. Things have obviously shifted since then, now kids are getting smartphones basically when they come out of the womb.
Yet, one thing that hasn't changed is the so-called "homework gap," in which lower income families can't afford Internet access, giving their children a distinct disadvantage compared to their more well-off classmates. It was a problem when I was a kid, and a desktop computer was the most important device for getting information, and it's still a problem now.
In fact, according to Pew Research Center, there are still five million U.S. families with school-aged children do not have broadband access at home.
Sprint has decided to do something to help alleviate that problem, announcing a new program, called the 1Million Project, to give one million free Internet-connected devices to high school students who are low-income, and who don't have a reliable source of Internet access at home.
Each students will get a free device, either a smartphone or laptop, which will come with 3GB of high-speed LTE data each month. If they go over that allotted amount of data, they will receive unlimited data at 2G speeds.
The program will start in January of next year, Sprint, in conjunction with the Sprint Foundation, and in partnership with a number of non-profit agencies. It will begin its pilot in seven to 10 markets, including Kansas City, with the rest to be named later, a spokesperson told me.
The pilot program is designed to give the company " a better understanding of the varying needs of students and the resources they require."
"Starting with the pilot program, Sprint will use a number of metrics, surveys and other response mechanisms to measure the long-term and short-term impact of 1Million Project," the spokesperson said.
"Ultimately, Sprint’s goal is to demonstrate that the 1Million Project helps students complete their high school education and either secure a job or apply and get accepted into a secondary education institution."
The nationwide rollout for the 1Million Project is planned for the school year starting in late 2017.
The non-profits, which include EveryoneOn and My Brother’s Keeper, will be in charge of getting community organizations, such as schools, libraries, public-housing authorities, and non-profits, on board. They'll also be the ones delivering the devices, and activating the mobile Internet service the students will be using.
Sprint says it was inspired by President Obama to launch this program, specifically his ConnectED and My Brother’s Keeper initiatives. ConnectED, created in 2013, gives technology and training to teachers, while My Brother's Keeper, which was launched in 2014, is an initiative to address opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color.
In 2014, Sprint announced it would be supporting the ConnectED initiative, providing wireless broadband connectivity for 50,000 low-income K-12 students across the U.S.
“The 1Million Project is a powerful example of the role that business must play in society today to address our most pressing problems. Increasingly, people are seeking to do business with companies committed to creating social, as well as shareholder value," Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint, said in a statement.
"Brands that create social value by making a meaningful difference in people’s lives are in a stronger position to attract new customers, recruit and retain better employees, and build stronger ties to their communities.”
Tech companies give back
A lot of press about Silicon Valley tends to be gossipy and often negative, but many companies, and their founders, have given a lot of money to charity.
In 2014, Twitter announced a homeless learning shelter called The NeighborNest, which will be located directly across the street from Twitter's headquarters at the Essex Fox Plaza, and then revealed that it was going to pledge at least $3 million to nonprofits in San Francisco over the next four years.
The company had donated a combined $360,000 over the last two years. By 2018, it will be donating nearly a $1 million alone.
Earlier this year, PayPal found its way into Guinness Book of World Records, by managing to raise the most money for charity in a 24 hour period, with more than $45.8 million to charities in, more than doubling the previous record.
Microsoft has also given to charity, revealing in January that it will be donating $1 billion worth of Microsoft Cloud services to nonprofits over the course of the next three years. In all, 70,000 organizations will be given access to Microsoft Cloud Services that include Microsoft Azure, Power BI, CRM Online and the Enterprise Mobility Suite.
When it comes to charitable giving, though, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are pretty much the gold standard in the tech world.
In 2012, he donated 18 million shares of Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Mountain View, California that says on the About Us section of its website that it provides investment management and guidance “on the art and science of giving.” At the time those shares were worth a total of $500,000.
Zuckerberg and Chan were named the most charitable people in 2013, having donated 18 million shares of Facebook stock, which amounted to a total of $992.2 million.
That same year Zuckerberg founded the Startup: Education foundation, and donated $100 million to the public school system of Newark, New Jersey. He has also held fundraisers for two New Jersey politicians: Senator Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie.
Zuckerberg and Chan topped the list of most charitable people in 2013. Together, the two donated 18 million shares of Facebook stock, which amounted to a whopping $992.2 million. The money was given to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. At only 29 years old, Zuckerberg was the youngest person to ever top this list.
Around $4 million of that money went gone to a Boston education start-up that gathers data to assess progress at public schools. Another $5 million went to a community health clinic for low-income families in East Palo Alto.