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Connectivity is a Social Determinant of…Everything

Information is online – people need to be there too.  News, bank branches, health advice, streaming radio, borrowing books from libraries– it’s all making inroads in our connected lives.  Consider: Netflix has 42 million US subscribers, half of Americans have listened to Internet radio. But what is the significance of fewer people having broadband access in their homes? Broadband access has a correlation between well-being and wellness (hats off to that Health Populi post!).  Is it the link between being over 50 and finding a job? Perhaps you are checking online to protect from Internet fraud; verifying that an identity hasn’t been stolen; checking out an eBook or using another online service from a library; including training on how to use the Internet. Or perhaps you are buying from the dominant US retail growth engine – hint, it's not Walmart, but Amazon.

So when home broadband usage plateaus or declines a little, does price matter? Note that 59% of Pew’s surveyed say the monthly subscription price is too high, and only 27% say that smartphone does everything you need to do -- that difference is striking. And consider that only 27% of the 65+ population own a smartphone; according to Pew, only 54% of people aged 50-64 own one for that matter -- though 43% of job seekers aged 50-64 have looked for work online. Note that the average income of the 65+ population is around $32,000. Observe that household income in general has declined over the past 15 years, bank branch closures are accelerating -- severing the bank’s social links to older adults, in favor of online banking. So is there an older adult connectivity problem?  You think?

Older adults need broadband – if they can afford it.  The cost of fiber-based broadband is much higher in the US ($70-110/month) than in other countries ($40/month in Korea).  Do boomers and seniors need a broadband Internet connection when there’s a Starbucks (now selling beer and wine in the evening) near the home, amped up by Google? Well, they surely need the Internet to look for work --  within the next eight years, one-third of people aged 65-74 will be in the workforce. If there is more than one person at home -- 26% of millennials live at home -- perhaps there is a reason to have high speed broadband in the home, says the FCC. As streaming content suppliers well know.

The conundrum: continuous tech change, the price of connectivity, and need for training.  Tablet sales have slowed in favor of the larger ‘phablet’ style phone; the iPhone market in the US may be saturated; and carrier subsidies of smartphones will soon be a memory. More innovation in smartphones is a given, but even as smartphone usage rises among older adults, is this the best choice for connecting the offline older adult? It is an awkward technology alternative – the smaller form factor combined with required setup and finicky touch user interfaces can be intimidating, more appropriate for reading messages than responding. In large urban areas, there is training to be found – for example, workshops offered around the country by AARP TEK, and New York area workshops from OATS Senior Planet.  For those intimidated or priced out of this access, what is the long-term solution?


Scott Dingfield Good question. At this point I'd say no. On one side, people need broadband, but on the other we see that more people are abandoning broadband in the home because of their smart phone. And then, as you've noted on your site, smart phone ownership for the 65+ is low. Leading me to say no to your question because broadband isn't factor in aging many people think it is...yet anyway.

Feels like connectivity itself is a basis, but broadband is secondary. You don't need much bandwidth to send a text message which can make someone's day, or convey key vital signs from a wearable device to a health service that indicates accelerated intervention is needed.

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