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Houston ISD to Pay for Hotspots to Replace Verizon Program

Having ended its agreement for home Internet access through the Verizon Innovative Learning Program, Houston Independent School District will pay for individual hotspots that cost $15 per student per month.

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(TNS) — The hotspots Houston ISD will use to replace the free home Internet access previously provided to students by Verizon will cost the district $15 per student per month, district officials confirmed Wednesday.

The Verizon Innovative Learning Program, which distributed free laptops and data plans to tens of thousands of students and teachers, expired last month after appointed Superintendent Mike Miles refused to let the company train teachers, a condition of the partnership, according to the Houston Landing, which first reported on the saga.

"We're not going to have anybody from the outside professionally develop our teachers on the quality of instruction, instructional strategies or techniques," Miles said at a November news conference.

Verizon allowed students to keep the laptops after the program expired, but the program's discontinuation raised questions about how those students would access the Internet without the data plans provided by the wireless company. On Wednesday, district officials confirmed that HISD has begun distributing T-Mobile hotspots to students who need Internet access and that those hotspots cost the district $15 per student per month.

The price of the T-Mobile hotspots was first reported by ABC13 Houston.

HISD officials said any student without home Wi-Fi can inform their school administrator of the situation and receive a hotspot for free. The district was unable to provide a total estimate of how much the hotspots would cost HISD.

"We are continuing to monitor this and will provide hotspot Internet for our students in need. Very few students have said they need this service," said HISD Chief Information Technology Officer Scott Gilhousen.

About 47 students have received a hotspot so far, Gilhousen said.

The Verizon program — operated with nonprofit Digital Promise — gave Chromebooks, four-year data plans and technology support to students and teachers in need. It reached 56,500 students and 2,500 teachers in HISD in the past three years, according to Verizon.

On Monday, a dozen Houston-area state lawmakers sent a letter to Miles asking him to restore the partnership or find an alternative vendor.

©2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.