On Friday the State Department announced that Hillary Clinton and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would hold a press conference to announce the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative this Wednesday, June 20. Now the event has been postponed indefinitely, until an unspecified “later date.”
In the press release sent out on Friday afternoon, the program was described as a “public-private partnership with Amazon and the U.S. government” designed to create “a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new ways and expands English language learning opportunities worldwide.”
I have asked the State Department why the event was postponed and will update this post when I hear back. Here’s the full e-mail sent to press:
Please be informed that The Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative event scheduled for this Wednesday, June 20th has now been postponed until a later date.
We apologize for any inconvenience. Please do not hesitate to contact us at ProtocolRSVP@state.gov if you have any questions.
Earlier today, Marc Maurer, the president of the National Federation for the Blind, sent a letter to Hillary Clinton stating that because e-readers are not accessible to the blind, “any agreement by the United States to procure inaccessible Kindle, or other, e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.” Infodocket has the full letter. It’s unclear whether the letter is the reason the event was postponed. In 2009, the NFB and other advocacy organizations for people who are blind sued public universities over pilot projects that would bring the Kindle to classrooms. Those cases, litigated by the United States Department of Justice, settled in early 2010.
Last week, State’s no-bid contract with Amazon became public. State spokesman Philippe Reines told me on Wednesday that the contract wasn’t official yet and that State was waiting for Amazon’s response to its proposal. Reines told me on Friday that “there’s no deal,” still just a pilot program. “Amazon has to respond. The two sides need to work out details. The event isn’t to announce a deal. It’s to talk about the initiative.”
According to the information we have so far, the State Department would spend $2.29 million in the first year of the program, including a purchase of 2,500 Kindles, and the maximum cost of the program over five years would be $16.5 million, including a maximum of 7,000 Kindles per year. As I reported last week, the potential program’s non-device costs are substantial but we don’t know yet which e-books will be preloaded on the Kindles.