Sprint doubles free home internet service for students, now from Tonganoxie to Belton

Sprint, through its 1 Million Project Foundation, is doubling its offer of free home internet access to disconnected high school students in the Kansas City area.

The project currently provides free mobile devices and internet access through four area school districts and is growing to cover 17 area districts. As many as 8,000 area high school students likely are eligible, including about 3,400 that currently benefit.

“This is going to be a program available to anyone who wants to use it, anyone smart enough to take advantage of it,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who took part in a presentation Thursday to students at the Central Academy of Excellence in Kansas City.

“Education can get you out of the situation that you don’t want to be in and put you in one you want to be in,” the mayor told students. “Education is the key to everything, especially in the world that’s coming.”

Sprint began a pilot test of its 1 Million Project in 2016, working with Kansas City Public Schools. It has added Grandview, Hickman Mills and Independence districts. Students who lack internet access at home often cannot complete homework or stay connected with school websites and teachers, even when school districts provide mobile devices to take home.

James said the workplace increasingly demands new skills in artificial intelligence, robotics, self-driving cars, online retail and many other areas. He said the home internet access Sprint’s program offers can help close the gap in resources.

“If you don’t prepare yourselves for those changes it will hurt you,” James said to students who were let out of class to attend. “This will compete with the suburban schools and all the other schools with the big buildings and the fancy stuff.”

Sprint CEO Michel Combes said he wanted to expand the local footprint of the program because “we can do a better job in our backyard.” The project seeks to connect 1 million students nationally and served 113,000 in its first year.

Increased funding from Sprint allows the project map to encompass Belton, Blue Springs, Blue Valley, Center, Kansas City, Kan., Lathrop, Liberty, North Kansas City, Ottawa, Rich Hill, Spring Hill, Tonganoxie and Turner districts. Other districts can apply for inclusion.

More than 700 students in the Belton School District likely will benefit by gaining free internet access at home through the program, Andrew Underwood, superintendent of the district said during the presentation.

Sprint also is supporting Best Buy’s effort to open an after-school program that provides internet access and training in the Kansas City area. The Best Buy Teen Tech Center is seeking a local nonprofit organization to house and run the center. There are 21 such centers nationally.

Related stories from Kansas City Star