PCs for People

Closing the Digital Divide

Lead Organization

PCs for People

Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States

http://www.pcsforpeople.org

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

The digital divide is an urgent national issue which must be addressed at a national scale. PCs for People has been bridging this divide for over 10 years by providing low-cost computers and affordable wireless internet service to low-income individuals and nonprofit organizations. $100 million will allow us to finally close the digital divide by amplifying our impact nationally through a scalable and sustainable solution. Technology refurbishing and redistribution hubs in 40 cities would distribute 6 million computers over a five year period and add 624,000 internet subscribers annually, for a total impact on over 4.5 million individuals per year and 22.5 million individuals impacted over five years. This expansion would create 2,160 living wage jobs across the country. Those currently held back from educational and economic advancement, including historically marginalized groups, would be empowered to succeed through equitable access to technology tools as well as technology training.

Problem Statement

In today’s digital society, it is increasingly difficult to access education, healthcare or employment opportunities without regular use of a computer or the internet. Access to computers and internet service varies significantly by household income, and internet service is particular limited based on geographic inequities as well. Recent reports have uncovered “digital redlining” through which broadband companies did not provide physical infrastructure to connect communities which have already been disadvantaged by lack of housing investment. The digital divide also has a disparate impact on marginalized racial groups. Pew Research Center reports have found that not only are lower-income Americans less likely to have broadband access or a home computer, but black and Hispanic families are less likely to have a home computer than white families. Both internet access and computer technology are currently provided primarily through the private market, yet digital access is so essential for 21st century daily life that many argue that the internet should be a public utility. PCs for People has found that even basic computer technology, when paired with simple wireless internet service, has an incredible impact on educational and economic advancement. The basic model of sourcing technology from businesses and other large organizations, refurbishing at a low cost, and distributing to those in need in exchange for a small donation has proved replicable and scalable across four retail locations and in 50 states through online sales. This model can be further leveraged through larger distribution events and partnerships with schools and other nonprofit organizations.

Solution Overview

Providing affordable computers and wireless internet service directly to low-income families is the most effective way to close the digital divide. Particularly when paired with digital literacy education and access to low-cost repair services, such digital access empowers individuals to advance their own education and career, amplifying the impact of their technology use to create positive change in their lives far into the future. PCs for People has already been recognized as a national leader in bridging the digital divide by using a nonprofit social enterprise model to form a sustainable and scalable comprehensive approach to affordable technology access. The impact of the innovative combination of technology sourcing, retail distribution, and scaling distribution partnerships is evident in the number of computers distributed, number of households connected to the internet, and the number of individuals who receive digital literacy training. Over a five year grant period, the PCs for People model of technology access will have a significant impact across the United States through the establishment of 40 sourcing and distribution hubs supporting 120 satellite locations. Through these locations, as well as a strengthened online presence, 4,521,600 people will be impacted annually as 1.2 million computers are distributed and 624,000 people connected to the internet each year. The marginalized groups currently most impacted by the digital divide will be those who see the greatest benefit from this approach, as they will use their increased connectivity to improve educational and economic outcomes as well as social connectedness and civic empowerment.

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Project Funders

  • Otto Bremer Trust 2011 - 2018
  • The Cleveland Foundation 2018 - 2020
  • Robert W. Deutsch Foundation 2019 - 2020

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