Microsoft is currently developing, with partners, ultra-low cost computers that will be sold to low-income students and families. Sales will begin in 2012.
According to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, some 100 million Americans, or one-third of the population of the United States do not have Internet access at home. Microsoft and its hardware partners will sell the computers, which include both desktop and laptop machines, replete with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office at a very low-cost rate.
The Chairman said in remarks that the machines were “designed for students,” and that “landing a job increasingly requires digital skills. […] Broadband is now a basic requirement to participate in the 21st century economy.”
The FCC has an initiative in place, called ‘Connect to Compete,’ to bring cheap broadband to low-income families. If children in a household qualify for free lunch at school, then the family might be eligible for deeply discounted broadband access from a normal provider. That combined with a low-cost computer, and it is feasible to imagine million of houses flipping the Internet switch on for good. The program that Microsoft and its partners are embarking upon is aiming to reach “as many as 17 million students and families,” according to GeekWire.
Of course, there are externalities to this. Millions of students are going to be exposed to Microsoft’s software, and the hardware of various OEMs that are part of that ecosystem from a young age. This will build instill a modicum of brand loyalty. But this is likely a non-profit, or even loss inducing task.
You can read the full remarks of the FCC Chairman here.