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Pew report reveals 17 million seniors disconnected from the utility of the Internet

First the numbers – good news, sort of. The latest in Pew posting headline in the news misleads. Period. Who’s Not Online -- about Internet adoption – reports the change in online use since the year 2000. The text works hard on enthusiasm and a bit of 'game over' in terms of saturation: 84% of adults are now online! Saturation for some groups! Considerably higher than in 2000!  Note the 'on the other hand' age-related caveat: "About four-in-ten adults ages 65 and older (39%) do not use the internet, compared with only 3% of 18- to 29-year-olds."  Education is a factor (more educated, more online, no kidding). Where you live (less rural, more online). But there’s the neon punch line: "Adults from households earning less than $30,000 a year are roughly eight times more likely than the most affluent adults to not use the internet."

The Internet in 2000 was a prediction and a nice-to-have. I should know – I was an Internet analyst in 2000, when the 'Internet Changes Everything' was the refrain of words, slides and analyst advice. And that was correct – the Internet did change everything. In 2000, B2B Electronic Data Interchange was the electronic standard way to do online commerce. It was an amusing process: print the purchase order, enter data into online system, transfer through Internet EDI (begun in 1996), print at the other end, then type data back into a different system. The Internet was extremely slow and quite unpleasant to access. Phone calls were still popular. There was virtually no decent consumer software. Following the introduction of the Netscape browser in 1994, Pizza Hut introduced online ordering.  Internet shopping began to take off.  Amazon (1995) was a $2B presence in 2000 versus $89 billion in 2014. 

Access to the Internet in 2015 is an essential – like food, work and transportation. Find a job, search for a health problem like yours, learn a skill, locate a ride, buy a house, vacation, or used car. Book a trip, a restaurant, or find a repair shop. This is not your Internet of 2000.  Today’s Internet has disintermediated nearly all other ways find answers to any of those questions – including the library (except as an Internet access point). You see coffee shops crowded with WiFi users who can’t pay for broadband. Why are they at Starbucks? It's not for the coffee. Broadband cost today averages $90/month for high speed and related services.  Oh, and 12.5 million (29%) of the 65+ do not have a computer (see census) to bring to Starbucks. Buying a still-pricey tablet may soon become obsolete in the favor of newer smartphones. The data plan for smartphones that replace other gear is more than $100 from major carriers. Per month.  

Access to the Internet is unaffordable for many seniors– and nobody is dealing with it.  If you are reading this, you know. Access to the Internet is essential. Stores, banks and government agencies are closing.  So what’s happening to get the rest of those seniors online?  Are you seeing broadband plan discounts for people aged 65+, let alone the 17 million real seniors aged 75+? If life expectancy at 65 averages 88.8 for women and includes those with significant chronic disease, how do they find resources needed to survive without a) access to the Internet or b) committed family who will act as their online proxy? What is the government policy proposal that addresses this audience? And what are the carriers, Google, Facebook, Apple, or any other large tech Peter Pan innovators doing about it?