Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy

I just bought one of my kids a computer – a Mac something. She had tried to go cheap and in the end that computer didn’t meet her needs as an emerging artist. She was trying to get hired to go logos and run social media on her phone or the iPad she shares with her sister, in the end it tarnished her experience and her employability. I’m invested in her employability and learning to shift some of her art online so I was able to make the investment. But I wanted to make her promise not to tell her sisters! Computers are expensive. But I know having people use broadband with the wrong tool can backfire.

Communities need to make the same decision to invest in all members of their community to increase employability, which will in turn increase demand for broadband.

I got back to my desk and ran into Colin Rhinesmith’s article no this exact topic (Why Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy). I’ll excerpt the portion that highlight’s Minnesota’s PCs for People…

In my report, I wrote that “low-cost or free computers are often just as important as having access to low-cost or free internet options.” Half of the organizations that participated in my study recognized that this tactic was a key part of their broader digital inclusion efforts. I also learned that many of these organizations worked to refurbish and resell computers at more affordable prices.

PCs for People—in Saint Paul, Minnesota—was one of the organizations that I visited. The organization makes desktop and laptop computers accessible for individuals and families with limited monthly incomes. In Benton’s Innovators in Digital Inclusion series, National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer explained, “PCs for People’s strategy is to: 1) procure high-quality, retired electronics from corporations, 2) leverage automation to efficiently refurbish computers, and 3) distribute equipment nationally at a lower cost than any other organization.” The PCs for People location in Saint Paul also made it incredibly convenient to access for individuals and families and, as such, became a trusted community institution.

During my visit to PCs for People (pictured left), I learned why low-cost devices were just as important as low-cost broadband service. As Casey Sorensen, PCs for People Executive Director explained,

Our average client is a family of three, usually a single parent and two kids, and they make about $12,000 a year. So they don’t have a lot of discretionary money that they can spend on services or products, but they do have some ability to pay. We found that if they provide a little bit of funds for a computer, they will treat it a little bit better. They will spend more time with it if they can make an investment in it, and most of the families that we are working with do want to make investments. They understand that getting a computer is a once-in-every-three-years purchase that they have never been able to do before, and our challenge is how do we make that at a price point that they can afford?

Many community members also told me that while they had internet access on their phones, they found it nearly impossible to apply for jobs on such small screens.

Just recently I wrote about folks who didn’t have broadband at home – cost, cost of computers and no interest were on the shortlist…

Some 27% of adults – up from 17% in 2019 – say they do not have broadband at home for some other reason, including 11% who say it is because they are not interested, do not care for it or do not need it.

Broadband non-adopters were asked which, among the reasons they mentioned, was the most important reason they did not have a broadband subscription at home.2 Some 27% of non-broadband users say the most important reason for not having broadband at home is cost – including 20% who say a monthly broadband subscription is too expensive and 7% who say a computer is too expensive.

I suspect many of those without interest have just not been given the right tool.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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