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Where Broadband Isn't -- and Aging in Place Tech
A long, long time ago, in an FCC commentary far, far away. Back in the dark ages (2009 to be exact), the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened a public comment on the US national broadband plan. David Isenberg’s response, It’s the Internet Stupid, (http://itstheinternetstupid.com/) is the consummate comment on broadband. “The direct, most immediate way to “advance consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery”, etc., is via broadband connections to the Internet. (I was an original signer to this document.)
AiP and Broadband. Broadband Internet is the foundation of many of the aging in place technologies that we are all so enamored with these days. While the industry seems to think that new names for these connections is clever, the bottom line is that they all use the Internet in some fashion. M-health is, oh yeah, cellular broadband Internet via apps. Wi-Fi connections in the home or in public are, yup, broadband Internet via directly connected routers/modems. Even devices that use the plain old telephone service phone line to upload data, eventually use some form of the Internet and broadband to report the data.
Broadband isn’t where FCC says it is. Since we are all building a foundation of apps, devices, clouds and such that heavily utilize the Internet (and broadband), I thought it might be fruitful to discuss where broadband isn’t. Broadband isn’t deployed in many rural areas in the US. Broadband isn’t deployed in many urban and suburban areas considered “too expensive to serve” by providers. Cellular broadband isn’t in every area that one might expect a cellular phone to reach. Even urban areas have pockets of no or poor coverage. (Just ask any person with an iPhone in San Francisco, Seattle or New York.) The FCC has been collecting data and reporting coverage (as self-reported by the service providers) on a national map. But, regional studies prove some of the data is incorrect — overestimated coverage both in upload/download speed and geography. The FCC’s plan specifically mentions older adults in the National Purposes section on health care (because there will be twice as many folks over 65, who are too fat, take lots of drugs and go to the hospital and get infections.) Bottom line, the FCC recognized the importance of health care (including remote monitoring), which is a good thing. According to Pew Research, only 26% of adults age 65+ actually have home broadband. Furthermore, the problem is that there is no obvious way to get from here to ubiquitous broadband which is reliable (it works when you need it) and available (it’s up when you need it).
Rural areas don't work (for broadband). I’ve been spending part of my summer consulting with a rural area to see how we can get better broadband deployment throughout the region (less than 4% of the population in an area over 16,000 square miles reports having adequate broadband access today.) This area includes the city with the second densest 65+ population in the state of California. Many of the AiP technologies we have tested would be perfect to monitor and manage an aging population with not-enough doctors, but, alas, there is no reliable way to get to the Internet. One resident downloaded one itty bitty (80Kb file) in just over 2 hours. Really, these folks have 28.8 Kbps modems and are a bit miffed that you can’t buy them in computers anymore.
This is your target market. Unfortunately, AiP vendors seem to forget or are unaware about the fact that their product may not work without broadband Internet. One CCRC in Pennsylvania that tests equipment found that cellular-based GPS/location contraptions reported widely varied results (6 devices were side-by-side and had discrepancies of thousands of feet.) It is imperative, as an industry, that we take broadband Internet seriously, especially considering that many of us still seem to believe that everything works everywhere. To paraphrase David, are you stupid about broadband?