FCC kicks off computer donation program to help low-income people

US organizations are encouraged to donate computers for redistribution by Connect2Compete

A Federal Communications Commission-led initiative has launched a program that will allow U.S. organizations to donate used computers to low-income people.

"The costs of digital exclusion are rising," said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., referring to how low- income people suffer from not being connected to the Internet. "Broadband is our central platform in the 21st century for economic growth, information and opportunity."

The nonprofit organization Connect2Compete (C2C) will redistribute the computers to the poor so they can be used to access the Internet and develop basic digital literacy skills.

Genachowski pointed to the ways that low-income individuals miss opportunities by not being connected. Many jobs -- including the many engineering positions U.S. companies now have difficulty filling -- require computer savvy. Even finding a job requires a computer. "Job postings are almost exclusively online now," Genachowski said, noting that 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies do all of their job postings online.

The cost of a computer prohibits many low-income people from accessing the Internet, according to the FCC. About 36 percent of Americans who do not have Internet access cite the prohibitive costs of purchasing a new computer as the reason for not being online. Overall, about 100 million Americans do not have broadband access, according the government agency.

To get computers, C2C is asking for donations from U.S. organizations, which discard 17 million computers each year, according to Gartner Research. While such computers may be out of date for corporate use, they still can be used for basic computing and Internet connectivity, Genachowski said.

Computing recycling company Redemtech will refurbish the donated computers. In its program, called the PC Pledge 100, Redemtech will accept donations of used computers from organizations. A donated computer should have an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or equivalent, at least 2GB RAM and an 80GB hard drive. It should also have a DVD player, a wireless Internet card and Ethernet connectivity.

During processing, Redemtech will delete the contents on the computer, and install Microsoft Windows 7 and a number of office productivity programs. Microsoft is supplying the software at a reduced price.

Started in 2011 by the FCC, the C2C is a public-private coalition to broadband access and low-cost computers to low-income individuals in the U.S. The organization, with the Ad Council, will kick off a multilingual ad campaign in early 2013, to promote digital literacy.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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