Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions — A Look at the Computer Marketplace

Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions — A Look at the Computer Marketplace

Posted on April 19, 2022 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
In 2021, 340,000,000 computers were sold globally – an increase of 10% from 2020 [1]. Recent investments in infrastructure improvements by the federal government have created provisions that are expected to increase affordable broadband connectivity for many in the U.S. Yet, while many households have taken advantage of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which discounts broadband for eligible households, the same people still struggle to acquire large-screen devices such as tablets and laptops which are necessary to fully participate in our digital world. In this second installment of Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions, we explore the computer marketplace, how digital navigation facilitates access to computers and refurbished computers.

When shopping for a computer, many visit a retailer. That will allow interaction with multiple devices on display and the ability to chat with store employees who might help narrow down the ample selection. Others strictly start their search for a new computer online, favoring major popular brands. However, the majority of people do not speak computer jargon. When shopping for a new computer, the first consideration is usually cost, followed by whether the machine can perform the tasks the user requires. This means consumers must largely educate themselves about computers, what they can do, and whether it’s worth paying for certain features. Since the price tag on a basic laptop can start at about $300 and quickly escalate into the thousands, it’s no surprise that sticker shock combined with decision fatigue may cause many people to give up on a purchase altogether.

In addition to receiving assistance with subscribing to low-cost broadband, finding a suitable device at an acceptable price point is an essential part of digital navigation. Digital Navigators receive specific training on sourcing appropriate low-cost computers for people for whom even $300 or less is challenging. Digital Navigators learn about national and local providers, including refurbishers, who make computer ownership possible for specific populations such as economically disadvantaged households, families with K-12 children, older adults, and veterans, among others. Through the Affordable Connectivity Program, qualifying households can also purchase a new computer through a participating provider with a single copay of $10-$49.

For most digital navigation clients, a refurbished computer is often the only option for obtaining a large-screen device. But, what exactly is a refurbished computer? Does it compare in quality with a new computer?

Refurbished computers are returned or received, inspected, repaired, and then redistributed. It has had its data wiped and its settings restored to factory. Today’s electronics are made with planned obsolescence in mind, meaning they are manufactured to rapidly become obsolete, making new computer purchases cyclical for consumers these days – a cost about 10,000,000 households in the U.S. cannot afford [2].

Since refurbished computers are tested individually by humans before being redistributed, and many refurbishers also provide warranties, this offers additional peace of mind to consumers who consider owning a refurbished computer. Consumers should also look for grades A (like new) to C (visible exterior wear and tear) and the Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Additionally, its refurbisher may be one of about 1,500 Registered Refurbisher Program (RRP) participants, formerly Microsoft Authorized Refurbished (MAR), which adheres to strict quality standards for computer refurbishers.

Indeed, when computer refurbishers established what continues to be the business model for recycling computing devices, they began a growing industry that addresses the biggest challenge in digital equity: the acquisition of affordable, suitable computers. Next month, we will round out this series by examining the computer refurbishment ecosystem, the impact of electronic waste on our environment, and how we can all do better.


1. Alsop, T (2022 February 10). Global PC Unit Shipments 2006-2021. Statista.com. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/273495/global-shipments-of-personal-computers-since-2006/

2. U.S. Census. (2020). American Community Survey. Retrieved from https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=S2801&g=0100000US&y=2020&tid=ACSST5Y2020.S2801

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.