On May 12, the Federal Communications Commission will launch the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which will have internet service providers give low-income Americans who qualify up to $50 off per month for broadband service. Advocates for older adults say the government's new broadband subsidies are a good step towards closing the digital divide — but that much more will need to be done to get them on the internet.
The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on the disparities that exist in accessing affordable, reliable high-speed internet in the US. The panel heard from the National Urban League's Joi Chaney, Public Knowledge President Chris Lewis, Francella Ochillo of Next Century Cities, and George Ford, the chief economist at the Phoenix Center.
The pandemic might be the bridge to close the generational tech divide as older adults flocked to adopt technology in 2020. Usage increased across the technological spectrum, according to AARP’s annual technology survey. Older adults are streaming movies and TV shows, video-chatting with loved ones and colleagues, and buying new smart devices, such as TVs, phones, watches, tablets, home assistants, and home security. With social distancing restricting social interaction, adults 50 and older not only snatched up new devices, but also were more likely to use them daily.
The proportion of people aged 75 and over using the internet has nearly doubled in the last seven years in the UK. Figures compiled by the Office of National Statistics show that while there has been little change in internet use for adults aged 16 to 44, the number of older people going online has shot up from 29% in 2013 to 54% in 2020. The information is based on figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) between January and March 2020 so it will not include changes due to the pandemic.
7% of US adults say they do not use the internet. Internet non-adoption is linked to a number of demographic variables, but is strongly connected to age – with older Americans continuing to be one of the least likely groups to use the internet. Today, 25% of adults ages 65 and older report never going online, compared with much smaller shares of adults under the age of 65. Educational attainment and household income are also indicators of a person’s likelihood to be offline.
The City of Baltimore has formed a digital alliance with Microsoft to bring a collection of programs for residents of Baltimore looking to learn the fundamentals of coding and robotics, as well as basic digital literacy.
To cope with Covid-19 restrictions, senior-living condo and apartment operators expanded digital services for residents over the past year, from video-chat apps to virtual assistants, live-stream fitness classes and virtual-reality day trips. Now, as the pace of coronavirus vaccinations picks up, technology leaders at many of these facilities are hoping to broaden the use of software tools that helped stave off social isolation amid lockdowns, social-distancing and quarantines—without discouraging real-world interaction.
‘It’s just not right’: Chicago area seniors deal with digital divide when making vaccine appointments
With many seniors not plugged into today’s digital world, some are getting confused when it comes to making or rescheduling vaccine appointments. One senior was so frustrated, she just gave up. “The whole world can’t think that everybody has a computer and an email to do this stuff,” Pat Cash said. Woodale (IL) senior Pat Cash said she wasn’t notified that her COVID-19 appointment had been changed because she doesn’t have a smartphone. “I was just like livid because I have a set time I was told to be there, early nobody’s there to talk to everything’s locked up,” she said.
Increased remote work and schooling and aging or sparse internet connections are affecting rural Maine. Video calls drop or freeze. Family members find only one person at a time can use streaming applications. Mainers returning to the state to work and live are finding it a challenge with the slower internet. Faster and more reliable technologies might not be available in certain areas or are not affordable. Those stories also are resonating with lawmakers, who are increasingly hearing how internet limitations are holding back Maine’s ability to grow its economy and workforce.
Racial and ethnic minority communities that lack internet access have been left behind in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine. We are researchers who study health disparities. We are concerned that even when vaccinations are offered in these communities, those at greatest risk for COVID-19 may be unable to obtain appointments without the help of family or friends. This includes racial and ethnic minority communities and older adults, the age group that is currently being vaccinated. Our research suggests that lack of internet access may be an important reason.