The Gift of Technology

Many people lack what some of us take for granted. Take computer access to the Internet, for example.

According to the 2018 Annual Broadband Adoption Survey by the U.C. Riverside School of Public Policy, approximately 30 percent of Californians continue to lack “meaningful internet access” at home. Yet, being digitally connected is vital to succeeding in school, accessing government and health services and contributing to a modern economy.  Those of us who have a computer may not give it much thought since being online is sewn into the fabric of our lives, but how we would miss it if it weren’t there.

The California Broadband Council (CBC), along with its State Surplus Equipment Task Force members, volunteers and community partner, Tech Exchange, sponsored a Surplus Equipment Tech Fair in Oakland recently. The CBC contributed free, state surplus desktop computers, refurbished by Tech Exchange, and related equipment to eligible households and individuals. Volunteers worked throughout the day to put computers in the hands of Oakland residents and by the end of the day the Fair had succeeded by providing 141 households with computers. On average, volunteers handed out a computer about every 1.25 minutes for 3 hours straight. Eligibility was based on individuals and families receiving HUD housing assistance, CalFresh, social security benefits and/or free or reduced lunches.

Apart from computers, the Tech Fair offered affordable Internet access and connections with beneficial community organizations. As a result, 36 families signed up on the spot for low-cost Internet. The $10 per month program fielded another 88 households who indicated they would benefit from the program. Each of those households will receive follow-up contact from Tech Exchange volunteers.

A tech fair recipient expressed her appreciation for the program: “About two years ago, I got a desktop for my children – they’re twins – they’re in middle school, so today I came back for a second one. It’s really convenient for each of them to have a computer to work on. We got a lot of resources here, like medical resources, educational resources. I love this program.”

The Tech Fair’s positive impact on children, adults and families is apparent, but the Fair also made a significant impact on the environment. Based on calculations of the EPA Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, staving off 141 desktop computers from the landfill is equivalent to

  • removing 80 cars from the road for a year,
  • zeroing the toxic mercury level found in 680,000 tuna, and
  • saving enough energy to power 45 homes for a year.

Keeping the computers in service delivered an environmental cost benefit of $1.3 for every dollar spent.

The State Surplus Equipment Tech Fair was successful by every metric and an example of how nonprofits, private sector partners, volunteers and the California Broadband Council can work collectively to overcome obstacles in order to distribute computers, information and resources to California communities.