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Beginning next year, Microsoft and its hardware partners will offer a new line of computers starting at $250 for low-income students and their families — aiming to reach as many as 17 million students and families — as part of an FCC broadband and computer adoption program announced today.

Hardware specs weren’t announced, but the company says the computers will come with Windows and Microsoft Office and include access to online Office training, as well as digital literacy programs and Microsoft education software.

Microsoft is one of many companies taking part in the program, offering discounted or free versions of their products to increase computer usage and online literacy. The FCC “Connect to Compete” initiative also includes a $9.95/month broadband program for low-income families.

Of course, it’s also to the benefit of these companies long-term to get more people using their products.

“Roughly 100 million Americans aren’t online at home,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a speech this morning. “That’s one-third of our population – a 68 percent adoption rate. Compare that to South Korea and Singapore where adoption rates top 90 percent. It used to be that being disconnected was an inconvenience. Not any more. Whether we’re talking about jobs, education, or health care, in this day and age, getting online isa necessity, not a convenience. We can’t afford to have a third of the country frozen out of the broadband economy.”

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