City of Kingston to send PCs to Cuba

An Ontario municipality has turned what would normally be a routine desktop refresh into an opportunity to spread goodwill to its “sister city” in Cuba.

The City of Kingston is planning to send 200 surplus computers to Cienfuegos, located on the southern coast of Cuba on the Caribbean Sea, about 250 km east from Havana. About a year and a half ago the two municipalities formed a twin agreement where they would set up a variety of exchange programs. Kingston is the first Canadian city to twin with a neighbour in Cuba.

Kingston manager of information systems Jim DeHoop said he recommended donating the four-year-old Compaq desktops to city council’s administrative policy committee, which approved the idea last week. Kingston recently switched to a “four-year steady” lifecycle on desktop computers, which means anywhere from 200-300 of its approximately 700 PCs are upgraded every year.

“Most are Pentium IIIs with 866 MHz and 20GB hard drives,” he said. Although most of them lack optical CD-drives, they come with 17-inch monitors and are in good condition, DeHoop said. “They’ve still definitely got residual value.”

Like many municipalities, Kingston occasionally leases its desktops, in which case the supplier takes back the machines at the end of their lifecycle. In other cases, for example when it buys the machines outright, it has sometimes offered an opportunity for employees to purchase the machines. Both approaches have their drawbacks, DeHoop said.

“We would get complaints from local resellers that we’re dumping all this product out there in their territory,” he said, adding that employee purchasing had pitfalls of its own. “We’re not really in that business, and sometimes you get implied warranties when you’re selling them to staff.”

Evelyn Gervan, president of the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association of Kingston, said the twinning agreement between the two cities has already yielded exchanges between rowing teams, as well exchange programs between heath and education professionals. The idea, she said is to expand each other’s knowledge of different municipalities and to look at the possibilities of doing business within each other’s economies.

“There’s a great need for computers all over the country. The greatest need is in their schools,” Gervan said. “Cuba is trying to get up to speed on teaching computer literacy to their young people, but at this point they haven’t been able to afford computers. I know that most schools have at least one computer, but you can imagine how inadequate that is.”

DeHoop agreed, assign that while Cienfuegos doesn’t have a huge city staff, the PCs will likely find a home in the broader local public sector.

“We know they’ll put them to good use in government offices and hospitals and also schools,” he said.

Kingston is replacing its ageing Compaq computers with Dell desktops, DeHoop said.

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