The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology and the Digital Literacy Alliance (DLA) announced this week that they would be partnering with the national nonprofit PCs for People to provide low-cost or free devices and tech services to Philadelphians.
Philly’s 2022-launched digital equity plan outlined the need for better access to devices for low-income residents. The plan also discusses about the need for a better “device ecosystem,” as Juliet Fink-Yates, digital inclusion manager at OIT, told Technical.ly. Such an ecosystem would allow residents to donate devices to be refurbished, then those refurbished devices — and information on how to use them — would be distributed to Philadelphians in need.
Independence Public Media Foundation gave a $500,000 grant to the Digital Literacy Alliance, which was used along with other funds from DLA to support a partner organization that will take on the challenge of developing an improved system for distributing devices. After putting out a request for proposals last summer, Fink said the DLA selected PCs for People because device equity is its primary focus, and they’ve been successful in multiple cities around the country.
PCs for People has had a presence in Baltimore since the summer of 2020. The organization was included in that city’s Digital Equity Leadership Lab cohort last summer where its leaders furthered their internet advocacy and equity expertise.
“They already had a lot of things built in that we really liked,” Fink-Yates told Technical.ly. “They had a multilingual tech support hotline available. They had significant partnerships with multinational corporations where they can bring in devices. And so we felt like they could really support and scale up the distribution of devices and lift up this need for this ecosystem here in Philadelphia and sustain their operations over time.”
With PCs for People, “now we know we have an entity here who can scale quickly, and big, and who has done that before.”Juliet Fink-Yates Office of Innovation and Technology
Fink-Yates emphasized PCs for People’s partnership work as one of the things DLA liked the most about them, saying the main goal for this city’s partners is to help PCs for People build strong partnerships with Philadelphia businesses and community organizations so it can have a real impact here. Building partnerships could lead to businesses donating equipment, programs for people in the community to work for PCs for People and learn how to refurbish devices, and to generally get the word out about this resource.
To kick off PCs for People’s local work, OIT and DLA hosted a laptop giveaway event with the nonprofit on Monday at Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philadelphia in partnership with economic inclusion nonprofit Ceiba, which is a member of DLA. Taller Puertorriqueño and Ceiba identified residents who needed devices ahead of the event to streamline the device giveaway with PCs for People.
Previous to this partnership, PCs for People had worked with some Philly-based organizations, such as literacy nonprofit Beyond Literacy, but it will now have a physical presence in the city. Fink-Yates said the org’s leaders plan to open a storefront in the next few months in a neighborhood that has high rates of people without internet connectivity or devices. This determination will be based on a survey the City did in 2021 to better understand the digital divide in Philly.
At this physical storefront, Philadelphians who meet the income eligibility requirements can purchase reduced price devices — desktops starting at $30 and laptops starting at $50 — or receive free devices. They will also be able to sign up for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program and receive tech support through PCs for People. The org will offer an online store.
In terms of the City’s larger digital equity goals, Fink-Yates said she hopes PCs for People will play a role in applying for and using any money the local government may receive from the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which plans to distribute millions of dollars in federal digital equity funds. She expects some of the state body’s grants will focus on device distribution, so she hopes PCs for People will partner with other Philly organizations and help the City find the best way to use such funds.
“My goal is that PCs for People can be additive and can come and add to this landscape and be a leader,” she said. “Now we know we have an entity here who can scale quickly, and big, and who has done that before. I think that’s really what we were hoping to achieve, is that scaleability.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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