As part of its Connected Learning Initiative, AT&T helped to bridge the ‘digital divide’ in tribal counties by donating 300 laptop computers to Muscogee Nation students in Henryetta and Okmulgee Oklahoma. To do so, AT&T partnered with Houston-based nonprofit, Compudopt, and football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman (who was raised in Henryetta).
“I am very proud to partner with organizations like AT&T and Compudopt to equip students from my hometown with the tools they need to succeed,” said Aikman.
This Connected Learning Initiative was promoted with AT&T branded flyers directing students to register via Compudopt. The laptop giveaway was hosted at the College of the Muscogee Nation and run by volunteers. Digital training and follow-up tech support are also being provided to laptop recipients.
“Through our partnership with Troy Aikman and Highway to Henryetta, we made a donation to Compudopt to issue out 300 computers to the College of the Muskogee Nation and Henryetta High School,” said Kyle Coulter, AT&T’s Area Manager of External Affairs. “High speed internet is really a bridge: It’s a bridge to possibilities. It’s a bridge to improving your life… It brings me great joy every day when I wake up that I get to be a part of that and make a difference through AT&T.”
The laptop giveaway event was attended by both Steve Hahn, President of AT&T Oklahoma, as well as Oklahoma State Representative Logan Phillips, the state’s Chairman of Rural Broadband Expansion. Phillips recently got legislation passed which empowered a Broadband Coordinator’s Office to “coordinate all broadband expansion for the state of Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma City’s KWTV News9 featured Steve Hahn in its coverage of the laptop giveaway. During the news segment, the President of AT&T Oklahoma asserts: “I don’t think it’s too much to say that it can change people’s lives to have the tools that they need to fully participate in the online world.”
Supportive Testimonials from the College of Muscogee Nation and Its Students
AT&T partnered with the College of the Muscogee Nation to produce and promote a video featuring the gratitude of students who benefitted from receiving the laptops.
“I’m a Natural Resources student. So, by having a laptop, I’m able to make Excel spreadsheets for the inventory and plan the gardening beds as well,” said Aiyanna Tanyan, a student at the College of the Muscogee Nation. “None of my siblings have laptops. So, if I’m not using mine, I do let them borrow it. (The laptop) has helped tremendously, not only with me doing my schoolwork here, but helping my siblings back home too.”
Marissa Lewis, Marketing Coordinator at the College of the Muscogee Nation, confirmed: “The laptop giveaway was a success… There’s definitely a change in the students from receiving a laptop and/or receiving internet.”
Joshua Haskew, another College of the Muscogee Nation student, agreed that his first laptop “has helped out tremendously. I can use it for my internet research and I’m able to use it at work.”
The Connected Learning Initiative video was posted across the social media accounts of the college, Compudopt, and AT&T.
AT&T also posted a shorter version of the video to their Twitter page.
How Connected Learning Initiatives Help Bridge the Digital Divide
A “combination of Internet access (hotspots) and tools to take advantage of that access (laptops) are more effective at generating improvements in scholastic achievement” than just expanding internet access alone, according to Professor Brian Whitacre, Chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University.
A Pew Research Center study referenced by AT&T found that among low-income families surveyed, 25% said their children struggled to do schoolwork without a computer at home and 37% had to do their work on a cellphone.
AT&T’s Connected Learning Initiative
The AT&T Connected Learning Initiative covers a broad collection of activities that support expanding access in underserved areas of the United States. The initiative appears to be part of a long-term strategy for acquiring customers in the rural communities where AT&T is expanding.
In early August 2023, AT&T notified the Federal Communications Commission of their intention to purchase 700MHz and PCS spectrum licenses in Oklahoma from the recently defunct Pioneer Telephone Cooperative.
How AT&T May Benefit from Goodwill
Goodwill is a type of cause marketing that may not have an immediate direct benefit to a company but may foster a positive reputation.
In this case, the goodwill earned by AT&T’s Connected Learning Initiative may support the company’s efforts to win federal grants. On March 22, 2023, AT&T announced the launch of a new cell tower in Kenwood with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) after “the Cherokee Nation approached AT&T to help close the digital divide and expand connectivity to its citizens.”
Oklahoma Watch, a database tracking distribution of the $1.87 billion awarded to Oklahoma through ARPA, reports that AT&T Oklahoma has requested $600 million to subsidize their expansion in the state.
On September 8, 2023, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced they have approved “$167.7 million for high-speed internet projects in Oklahoma under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund” which is estimated to “connect approximately 20,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.”
“Federal funding remains critical to extending high-speed, reliable broadband access to unserved and underserved areas,” AT&T says in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with federal, state and local leaders across the country on this important task.”