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Qualcomm Donates Connected Laptops to San Diego Schools

In a bid to help close the digital divide, Qualcomm donated 900 custom-built, cellular-connected laptops to the San Diego Unified School District on Thursday to support continuing distance learning programs.

by Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune / June 19, 2020
San Diego, Calif. Shutterstock/View Apart

(TNS) — In a bid to help close the digital divide, Qualcomm donated 900 custom-built, cellular-connected laptops to the San Diego Unified School District on Thursday to support continuing distance learning programs.

The computers run on the company's Snapdragon processors and include built-in cellular connectivity, giving students with limited access to Wi-Fi another avenue to learn remotely.

Qualcomm arranged to have the computers assembled by a contract manufacturer in Taiwan.

The laptops, along with three months of free cellular data from AT&T, totaled more than $400,000, said Susie Armstrong, vice president of engineering for Qualcomm.

"In a case like distance learning, there is a tremendous amount of well-intentioned hardware donations," said Armstrong. "But the key point is, how do you actually get those to have connectivity."

During the COVID-19 shutdowns, many coffee shops or libraries where students typically would go to link to Wi-Fi were shut down.

"I never want to donate a lump of hardware and software without data plans and some way to financially make sure that they get connected and stay connected," said Armstrong.

While the current donation covers three months of cellular data, Qualcomm and the school district are working to find additional funding sources so that data plans can be available to students for at least the full school year.

One possibility is to seek funding from E-Rate, the Federal Communications Commission's Universal Service program for schools and libraries.

San Diego Unified this week announced plans to return to school in person on Aug. 31 while following public health safety guidelines. That likely means that some students will choose not to come back to campuses at this time, said Superintendent Cindy Marten.

The district has about 9,000 students with asthma and another 1,000 who are considered medically fragile.

"It might not be a good idea for them to come to learn in person," she said. "So we want to make sure our online option is even more robust. These computers are part of that."

Qualcomm had some excess Snapdragon processors used for always-on, always-connected computers. The company has worked with the district for years though Thinkabit Lab and other STEM outreach programs.

When the district approached the company about helping with distance learning, it eventually led Qualcomm to build the white label laptops.

The computers include the latest Windows operating system software and education suite from Microsoft, long battery life and both Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

The computers are expected to be distributed later this summer after Qualcomm makes the official grant to the Board of Education. The company spent more than $260,000 assembling the machines and $141,000 for the cellular data plans.

"We are deeply committed to closing the connectivity gap," said Marten. "This partnership goes a long way at supporting our students and teachers."

©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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