Baltimore City has partnered with electronics recycling company PCs for People to collect more than 900 computers and other equipment from city agencies and donate it low-income families.
Baltimore City signed an agreement with PCs for People in 2020 to allow agencies and departments to donate old computers and equipment to Baltimore students and families. The city is also able to recycle “outdated and unsalvageable electronics,” and PCs for People will use the proceeds towards its digital literacy programs, technical support services and subsidized internet access.
Mayor Brandon Scott said the partnership between PCs for People and the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology will help improve online access that is critical during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities, including the digital divide,” Scott said in a statement. “With many of our families not having the proper access to electronics for remote working, virtual learning, and telehealth, we need to renew our efforts to ensure everyone has access to the 21st century technology they need to be successful.”
PCs for People was founded in 2008 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The nonprofit expanded to Baltimore in 2020 and opened a storefront location earlier this year in East Baltimore at 2901 E. Biddle St.
Through its work with more than 1,500 electronics recycling partners nationwide, PCs for People has given refurbished computers to more than 300,000 people, provided low-cost internet to more than 120,000 households, and stopped 8 million pounds of electronic waste from ending up in landfills, according to a press release from Baltimore City.
“In a world where employment opportunities, government services, and education increasingly rely on digital connectivity, it is imperative that historically disadvantaged communities have the digital access to engage,” said PCs for People Executive Director Gary Bonner in a statement.
City agencies looking to donate retired devices can contact Kenya Asli at the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology by emailing Kenya.Asli@baltimorecity.gov.
Businesses and organizations that are interested in using PCs for People’s electronics waste recycling services can call 443-396-7247 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The partnership with PCs for People is one of Baltimore City’s latest efforts to connect more Baltimore residents with technology and internet service.
Councilmember Zeke Cohen (District 1) last year introduced a bill to allow city government to use emergency funding for food access, digital devices, and expanded internet access. The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed the bill, using $3 million from the Children and Youth Fund to purchase Chrome Books for more than 10,000 students.
Comcast on Tuesday announced that they will double internet speeds for customers using their Internet Essentials package, a move that came after several city officials criticized the company’s business practices and accused it of price-gouging.
“These speeds support multiple concurrent videoconferencing sessions and enable family members to learn and work from home,” Kristie Fox, Vice President of Communications for Comcast’s Beltway Region, said in a statement.
Fox added that Comcast gives 60 days of free Internet Essential service to new customers. The company has also provided free access to 1.5 million public and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots, and free Wi-Fi at hundreds of community centers through their Lift Zone program.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to do even more to support digital equity and help families in need to stay connected,” Fox said.
Cohen credited a group of Baltimore City College students, the members of Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society (SOMOS), for urging Comcast to make high-speed internet more affordable for low-income families.
“This moment is the result of the tireless organizing of students, teachers, and everyday Baltimoreans who were left without a connection to learn or work during the pandemic.” Cohen said in a statement.
Baltimore City Schools teacher and SOMOS advisor Franca Muller Paz said the group of student activists have improved digital access not only for Baltimore households but across Comcast’s service areas.
“Today, Baltimore’s young people claim an enormous victory against a multi-billion dollar corporation. SOMOS’s fight for their peers’ chance to access their education will have a nationwide impact and help close the digital divide for millions of people,” Paz, who was also a Green Party candidate in the 2020 race for the Baltimore City Council District 12 seat, said in a statement.
Cohen added that the pursuit of affordable, high-speed internet for Baltimoreans is not over.
“We are glad to hear that Comcast has decided to increase the speed of their Internet Essentials Package,” he said. “However, we remain committed to ensuring that all of Baltimore’s families can afford a reliable internet connection. We will continue to hold them accountable.”
Cohen, alongside fellow Baltimore City Councilmembers Ryan Dorsey (District 3) and Kristerfer Burnett (District 8) and Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition Director Tia Price, last week called on Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to investigate Comcast for alleged price gouging.
Comcast introduced a new data plan that will charge customers who do not have unlimited data $10 for every 50 gigabytes they use over 1.2 terabytes.