AARP Eye Center
En español | The pandemic cast a spotlight on the need for high-speed internet — for everything from accessing health care to working from home and connecting with friends and family. But nearly 22 million American older adults lack broadband access at home, according to an AARP report.
Experts who spoke at an AARP tele-town hall on June 22 discussed ways to close the digital divide and urged listeners to tap into new federal resources aimed at addressing the problem, such as the AARP-backed Affordable Connectivity Program. Funding for the federal program, which offers a discount of up to $30 a month toward high-speed internet access for people with lower incomes, was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in 2021. The law also includes funding to expand high-speed internet to underserved areas and increase digital literacy skills so individuals can fully take advantage of the technology.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, said during the virtual event. “It increases health care options and economic opportunity and decreases feelings of isolation.”
Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which advocates for broadband access, said “more people are paying attention” to the digital divide since the pandemic, but available resources are inconsistent. If she “had a magic wand,” every community would have programs that help residents sign up for affordable internet service, get the device they need and learn digital skills, she said.
Those looking for help should ask their local library, senior center or community center if computer classes are offered or if a “digital navigator” is available to get them connected, she told a caller. Senior Planet from AARP also offers free online assistance.
Siefer joined Stephen K. Benjamin, White House director of public engagement and former mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and Bryan K. Barnett, mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in answering listeners’ questions during the hour-long event.
Listen to a recording and read more about the Affordable Connectivity Program and how to sign up.