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  • Roger L. Soares

Closing the Digital Divide

The concept of the “digital divide”, the idea that lower-income citizens suffer in a variety of ways from the lack of Internet access has been studied for many years. This is an issue that I am passionate about because it tends to have a greater impact on communities of color. Although an estimated 85% of American adults and more than 90% of teens use the Internet, some poorer areas in the United States still see comparatively low rates of home computer use; many are languishing without a connection to the Web, although some efforts are underway to make affordable broadband available to all Americans. Computer literacy and employment have a palpable connection. Computer skills help to reduce unemployment by helping people to both find and qualify for higher paying jobs. As a result, narrowing the gap between rich and poor is tied to closing the gap between those who have computer skills and those who do not.

A study published by NYC Comptroller, John C. Liu, titled “Bridging the Digital Literacy Divide“, identified 174 majority low-achieving middle school students in New York City with home computers and Internet use for self-regulated learning. These home computers accounted for a 14% increase in math test scores over one year. A comparison of school enrollment rates reveals that 95.2% of children who have home computers are enrolled in school. ​College admissions are becoming increasingly all online and it presents challenges for students without access to a computer in the home. A discussion paper from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System found that home computer ownership among teenagers increased the likelihood of high school graduation by up to 8 percentage points. Over 31% of college students take at least one class online. Additionally, more than 80% of fortune 500 companies require job applications to be completed online.

In 2013 a group of like minded individuals launched a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit with friends and former colleagues. The sole purpose of this endeavor was to invest in the lives of lower-income citizens by providing fully functional, pre-owned Personal Computers (PCs) to families in need, free of charge to the family. Through our research we identified that each year U.S. companies dispose of millions of functional computers, per their hardware refresh cycles. In a solution that is both sustainable and beneficial, we source the computers from corporate donors through personal contacts, business relationships, networks of peers and mentors. The working machines are picked up in bulk and delivered to our storage facility. There the machines are cleaned, tested, and loaded with the appropriate software by our IT team, then set aside for distribution. In order to identify who receives the PC’s we partner with local non-profit organizations and schools that already work closely with deserving recipients. We rely on our partners to nominate appropriate recipient families. Once the nominated family agrees to receive a computer, it is either delivered to the family or picked up by the family from our storage facility.

I have observed first-hand the importance of having access to a computer in the home. Students and families with computers at home use them to complete school assignments, submit college applications, apply for scholarships and submit job applications online. Using a computer at home presents opportunities for use without pressure, allowing families to increase their computer skills, research their own areas of interest, and engage in creative endeavors without time constraints. More importantly, we made a difference and played a critical role in narrowing the digital divide.

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