Detroiters eligible for free laptops, reduced internet bills

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Sisters Andrea and Andria Garwood will use their computers in college for school work and to make professional connections through email. (BridgeDetroit photo by Olivia Lewis)

Mumford High School valedictorian Andrea Garwood and her sister, salutatorian Andria Garwood, received free computers Wednesday to use at home and as they begin their college careers at Wayne State University, where they plan to study physical therapy and radiologic technology, respectively, this fall.

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The college-bound teens received the computers through a new program supported by the City of Detroit and Focus: HOPE to provide 1,000 Detroiters with refurbished computers in four months to reduce e-waste, help decrease the city’s digital divide, and provide jobs for residents. Some of the Detroit students who received laptops through the program shared their college goals with the media during a press conference Wednesday.

For students, the computers were more than devices to check social media — they’ll use the computers for school work and to make professional connections through email.

Garwood said she looks forward to the potential career opportunities that college will bring.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and gaining the most knowledge and skills that are needed to be successful in life,” she said.

The City of Detroit partnered with California-based human-I-T to collect and distribute old computers that typically end up in landfills. The used computer’s memories are wiped clean and donated to low-income Detroiters and nonprofits that serve local residents.

Human-I-T accepts laptops, desktops, printers, cell phones, AV equipment, servers, and more.

Joshua Edmonds, director of digital inclusion for the City of Detroit, has been working to educate and find resources to reduce Detroit’s digital divide for the last two years.

Edmonds said the City is advocating for $50 million of American Rescue Plan funds to be used for digital inclusion, which he thinks will “change the world.” However, Edmonds says he’s not disillusioned by the progress that has been made in the last two years since he began working with the City. Edmonds said now is the time to double, if not triple, down on expanding access to Detroiters who should be prioritized and are currently on the “wrong side of the digital divide.”

Mayor Mike Duggan launched the Empowering Digital Detroit program Wednesday. The initiative will distribute 1,000 refurbished laptops and help reduce the digital gap. (BridgeDetroit photo by Olivia Lewis)

According to the director, about 30 percent of Detroit residents are without internet access throughout the year.

In addition to the human-I-T support, Detroiters are encouraged to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. EBB is a federal program that subsidizes the cost of internet and technological devices through a monthly $50 discount for internet access and a one-time $100 subsidy for electric devices, like laptops and desktop computers. About 40 percent of Detroiters are expected to qualify for the federal subsidy.

“I’m optimistic, but I’m well aware of some of the pitfalls and challenges that are going to come out of the amount of attention that we’re going to be receiving and being able to address the need that’s still there,” he said. “So It’s great that we have a commitment of 1,000 devices, it’s great that we have the business community that’s leaning in, but it’s going to take a lot more than that.”

Edmonds said it will take ingenuity and cooperation to see beyond giving away free devices and granting Detroiters lower-cost access to reliable internet.

Portia Roberson, executive director of Focus: HOPE, said she hopes Detroiters will participate in the program and realize this is the first step in long-term change.

“I think this last year taught us how easily we could become disconnected and how we didn’t think having internet use, a tablet or laptop at home wasn’t a necessity,” she said. “So I think one of the reasons this program will succeed is because I think our residents are eager for it, and they will push, and we will push, to make sure people are getting what they need.”  

Andrea Garwood, the Mumford valedictorian, said she hopes Detroiters will take this opportunity to realize that there are opportunities in Detroit and that it’s never too late to advance one’s education.

“Just keep going, and keep being you,” Garwood said. “Be a leader, follow your dreams and work hard.”

To determine qualifications and apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, call 313-241-7618 to receive a $50 monthly credit toward your home internet bill.

Donations to human-I-T can be made at www.human-i-t.org, and a receipt and certificate of data destruction and processing will be made for a fully itemized tax deductible donation at processing. 

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