T-Mobile details free wireless hotspot plan for K-12 students

T-Mobile has detailed its plans to roll out free internet access to US students, with the promise of wireless hotspots and low-cost tablets or laptops. Part of the carrier's pre-Sprint-merger promises, the so-called "Project 10Million" will see T-Mobile supply data and subsidized devices as it attempts to tackle "the homework gap."

It's a topical problem as increasing numbers of young people resume their education but in a very different format to how it was before. With many schools opting for remote learning rather than bringing crowds into classrooms, the pandemic has helped highlight just how lacking broadband infrastructure is in some communities.

That's a significant problem when video calls and distance learning is now the norm for millions of US children. T-Mobile says it has set aside $10.7 billion for its project to help get households like that online.

"Even before the pandemic, more than 9 million of America's 56 million school-age kids did not have access to reliable internet and could not complete after-school assignments," the carrier said today. "This critical homework gap has tremendous short- and long-term impacts: lower test scores, lower grades and limited opportunities after graduation. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented 50 million students are learning remotely. Those without reliable internet connectivity will face an even bigger schoolwork gap as they are unable to participate in any type of online classroom learning."

On offer will be free Franklin Wireless T9 wireless hotspots for households, supplied for five years, and 100GB of data per year. Eligibility for Project 10Million is based on school or school district students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, T-Mobile says, and is for students in grades K-12. Interested schools or districts can register with T-Mobile, and will be responsible for distributing hotspots among eligible families.

As for devices, those participating in the program will be able to purchase one of a selection of notebooks or tablets at cost. Initially that includes the Coolpad Tasker tablet and the Samsung Chromebook 4, with the Lenovo 100e Chromebook and Lenovo 100e Windows notebook being added soon. Up to five at-cost devices will be available per eligible line.

In addition, T-Mobile says that schools in the program will be able to apply the subsidy value of the free program – around $500 – toward low-cost plans that offer either 100GB of data per month ($12/mo), or unlimited data. Those using Project 10Million hotspots may find that their connections are throttled back before those of other subscribers, T-Mobile says, in times of network congestion. They'll also get typically 480p video streaming.

Schools wanting to sign up can do so from today, and T-Mobile has previously said that it aims to get 10 million students online.