Excuses everywhere as to why not this and can't do that. If you're trying to make sense out of lack of progress in terms of Internet adoption and seniors, look no further than Friday's Senate hearing, with its overreaching title: "Aging in Place: The National Broadband Plan and Bringing Health Care Technology Home." Read and absorb a veritable laundry list of reasons why we need to buckle down and get a plan in place to get health technologies into the home -- maybe by 2020.
Is lack of broadband access the real problem? Never have so many heard so much about insurmountable barriers to stem rising healthcare costs of an aging population. Let's skip most of the barriers -- they are for others to debate -- and just focus on one noted by Mohit Kaushal, digital healthcare director, Federal Communications Commission, about connectivity: "Broadband is either missing or too expensive."
Never mind that this ground has been covered. So we know that the Veterans Administration and many others have already studied savings from telehealth (see blog comment "Don't expect turkeys to vote for Christmas" - my all time favorite.) Never mind that there is absolutely nothing preventing the telecom vendors right now from offering seniors low-priced broadband along with a useful application (like this pilot in Chicago). Oops - that requires a computer. Never mind that computer prices are amazingly low (the little Acer netbook with the great backlighting I am typing on right now cost $299 at OfficeMax.)
Let's just say a miracle happened -- and all was available. Let's imagine that instead of spending billions of federal dollars hyping broadband, instead of conducting more studies, and starting up vendor-sponsored Project GOALs to educate seniors about the advantages of broadband, what about this vision? Let's just imagine a world in which a really cheap Internet access plan (< $20/month) was bundled with a cheap brightly lit computer that weighs less than 3 pounds (< $300), with pre-loaded apps that were paid for by the carriers and computer vendors.
Marketing was plentiful. In this imaginary world, the vendors get together and buy large ads in local (hardcopy) newspapers around the US. Now let's imagine that every NCOA sentor center and SeniorNet learning center in the US has an easy-order process, that AARP offers a sizable discount on the computer as well as the broadband access. And with income verification in conjunction with other senior programs in this new world, it is even feasible to qualify for a free computer and better discounts on service.
Keep imagining beyond paper-based instructions. But how are folks going to learn how to use what they have? Well, maybe they could buy a charming, but soon to be out-of-date paperback book (see review). Instead, how about this? Now that they have their new little computer, their discounted broadband access is enabled by providing a coupon code over the telephone. But unfortunately, the computer comes with apps that may or may not be described in the book and also has startup instructions that most likely will not be described in the book.
Training is available through multiple mediums. What if the machine came with a training DVD? Or it was labeled with an 800 number where newcomers could listen to step-by-step instructions about setup that were provided by one of the vendors involved? On that call, they learn that they could call another 800 number and listen to telephone-based training in the use of the pre-loaded applications provided by the vendors.
Bingo! Then amazed, our newly outfitted senior, just like 105-year-old Will Clark, gives a big chuckle at what they can now see via the apps and find on the web, including those online Facebook family members and old friends. And on their training call, regardless of where they live, they learn that they can sign up online with pre-vetted services for transportation, meal delivery, and even online health consultation from their doctor (who mentions home health monitoring services that are now covered under Medicare). Maybe the computer label also has a phone number to call 24x7 to troubleshoot both the broadband service and... the computer itself.
Crazy? Aside from the fact that we all need these features, ask yourself this -- do we really need national broadband plans, GOALs, FCC initiatives, and every other objective that sets targets 10 years from now? Isn't this feasible with just a little bit of vendor willpower and cooperation -- and a desire to make more money by expanding their reach into a 65-plus market that is only 26% penetrated?
Your thoughts are welcome.