PowerUP, a massive educational technology effort that undertook to bridge the “digital divide” by installing millions of dollars worth of computer equipment in schools and community centers nationwide, closed its doors for good Oct. 31, leaving schools in need with one less friend to turn to.
Though it failed to eliminate the divide, the programestablished in 1999did succeed in equipping nearly 1,000 high-tech computer labs in underserved areas across the country before pulling the plug.
Backed by such high-profile corporate sponsors as AOL Time Warner Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), PowerUP spent upwards of $50 million on the labs, which were equipped with a hodgepodge of donations from its sponsors.
While Cisco provided high-speed networks for the equipment to run on, HP donated printers, and AOL supplied internet services. Nonprofit organizations, too, played a role. The Waitt Family Foundation, created by Gateway Inc. founder Ted Waitt, provided from 10 to 20 new Gateway computers for each center, and the Case Foundationled by AOL Chairman Steve Casedonated $10 million to get the program off the ground.
Though some parties involved have implied that the swooning stock market and sluggish economy contributed to the program’s downfall, PowerUp spokesman Kevin O’Shaugnessy said there were other reasons for shutting down.
According to him, PowerUP lost steam when its slew of high-profile corporate benefactors decided their generosity would be better spent promoting individual efforts rather than collaborative projects with inter-industry partners.
“There was an evolution of what they wanted to do in their philanthropy … away from the PowerUP model,” he said.
PowerUP’s demise is bad news for needy communities in search of better technology access, but its termination will have little effect on the community technology centers it already has helped to build, O’Shaugnessy said, because the program was never intended to provide ongoing funding for any of the initiatives