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Tech Companies Should Lead Effort to Expand Broadband Access for Older Adults


As broadband adoption levels off, the older adult population loses.  The flurry of interest in getting older adults online seems to be fizzling - unfortunately, before they are all online. Occasionally there is some excitement here and there, for example, the Google fiber project in Kansas City, but overall, the National Broadband plan seems tired, adoption has leveled off.  That is unfortunate - since only 45% of the 65+ have subscribed. Cynicism is up, though. Folks appear to be waiting for demographic changes to boost adoption - without anyone else having to do any hard work.   Note the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) report: "Someone who doesn't have broadband access will be excluded from the job market. The day will soon be on us when seniors' health care providers need them to have broadband access for better service delivery."

100% broadband access could optimize the reach and market for health IT. Why does it matter? Without broadband access, we know that those who need remote monitoring of chronic disease -- won't get it. Those whose health could improve from a remote specialist consultation without suffering a long car ride - won't have it. Those who need information about ' patients like them' -- won't find it. Those who don't even know yet what they don't know about health and wellness - will not find it. Yet there are hundreds and thousands of sites that could inform them - including AARP's own growing and lively content.  And then there's our partnership with Microsoft to drive the use of Personal Health Records (PHRs). Oops - that's an online service and would require broadband.

So whose job is it to make this happen - or is everyone waiting for someone else?  Clearly the public sector and organizations like NTIA or the FCC haven't gotten the job done to reach full broadband participation among older adults. Quite a few senior-focused non-profit agencies and organizations would benefit if all were online (like ASA, AoA, NCOA, etc.), but they don't see this as their job to beef up and broaden broadband access among constituents. Perhaps they agree with the Wall Street Journal that expanding broadband adoption is a waiting game: "Old people who don't bother with broadband will die, and younger people who can't imagine living without it will either demand it where they live or move to places where they can get it." Meanwhile, agencies like SSA want to halt paper statement distribution to save money - spawning lobbying groups that say, hold on, everyone is NOT online yet!

Vendors - take over, the public sector and non-profits aren't getting this done. So there are all of these parallel expectations and investments that rely on online access to reach the older customer. The older customer has a number of health-related needs that can be met online and, surprise, they can pay for services. Did I mention that boomers own half of the nation's wealth? So tech vendors - telecom like Sprint, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T; search engines and software - like Google, Yahoo,  Facebook, Microsoft;  services and portals - like Amazon, eBay, Autotrader - all want to get at some of that wealth. Push the public sector aside - make it happen. Buyers are waiting.

Photo  via Flickr user pfly.


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