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Listen up – will new pricing of data plans further limit seniors?

If you don’t like the way carriers serve older adults, just wait, it could get worse.   A few months ago we learned that carriers are pushing tablets, ha! Just as tablet sales overall are slowing. Carriers obviously read that Gartner report about slowing tablet sales -- and then 'encouraged' us to add a tablet to a plan for $10/month for up to 5GB of data. How generous. That’s not a lot of movies, maybe 2.5 hours of streaming HD per month. But what plan? How to encourage data usage with wireless data plans? No problem, those have all changed, with AT&T following T-Mobile and Verizon aping AT&T. And all of this following the precedent long set in Europe – now the full price of the phone is disclosed ($650 for an iPhone!). You could buy the phone upfront, but not to worry – there’s a monthly installment plan for the list price phone.

Did Verizon just make smartphone ownership even less appealing to seniors? Maybe so, says CNET: "Verizon also eliminated its low-end 500-megabyte plan, priced at $20 per month, which was an attractive option for customers who weren't heavy data users but still wanted to be on its network -- typically older individuals who didn't need all the bells and whistles of the latest smartphone." Emphasis mine. What IS a bell or a whistle?  Viewing video?  Playing a game? Having software so fast that repainting the screen is tolerable -- without leaving the room and returning later to see if anything changed?  Oh well, now that lower-priced plan is gone

Why did tablet sales slow, anyway? Is it because of larger screens on phones or lack of innovation in tablets, or was it a problem that nobody knows what tablets are for? Maybe because smartphones became bigger and bigger -- see phablet, an another made-up word. Are three devices -- a desktop, a tablet and a smartphone -- one too many gadgets to maintain? Did anyone notice that Android security updates are going to be pushed out monthly because the hack attacks are, uh, getting more frequent? And not to be left out, Apple pushed out quite a few too.  So will the overall market of these devices be likely to seize up in these times of device (and Internet) anxiety -- coupled with baffling changes in plan prices and too-frequent introductions of new devices.  Maybe we are tired of the privacy default -- opt in until we opt out.

So let’s recap – almost 40% of people aged 65+ are not on the Internet at all.  So were they to consider a data plan at all (phone or tablet), is this newly transparent pricing going to keep them away? Plan affordability should be simple to calculate – but in reality, the carrier plans were serious money before – and the cost is still serious -- and managing the data use settings is at best mysterious -- at worst, opaque. The fact is, smartphones don’t break, but data plans can be overrun in a blink of a video image or the last move in Words with Friends. And speed matters as these moneymakers become ever more popular – which is why phones have so often been upgraded.  But why are so many older adults in coffee shops mid-morning or afternoons?  WiFi from Starbucks enables any one of the device triumvirate -- PC, tablet, and smartphone -- to be used to see that cute kid/dog/YouTube video from family, do work, find services, locate a doctor or otherwise have an online life -- but of course, also slog through profitable mobile ads which help further push data usage up to warning levels - and beyond. 


Wow yes, that will further limit seniors. I think of all the seniors that only have plans because there is an inexpensive in case I need it. Also as all medical information and contact with medical personnel goes online, they will be further limited. It is time for a special set of plans for those who use them for specific purposes.

Elaine den Hoed, MMIS





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