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Broadband's Impact

Expert Opinion: Get Our Older Adults Online

If you’re like most consumers today, you’re spending many hours a day online, surfing the Internet for information, sending and receiving e-mails, watching videos, exchanging photos, communicating on social networks, playing games, and shopping online. However, within the older adult community, age 65+, only a little over a third have adopted broadband and are able to go online at home.

With much of our information, entertainment, commerce, and even government services now on the Internet, our seniors have rapidly become the most digitally divided segment of our society – and with the great benefits the Internet has to offer our aging community, they’re missing out on an opportunity to improve their lives at a most critical point.

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If you’re like most consumers today, you’re spending many hours a day online, surfing the Internet for information, sending and receiving e-mails, watching videos, exchanging photos, communicating on social networks, playing games, and shopping online.  However, within the older adult community, age 65+, only a little over a third have adopted broadband and are able to go online at home.

With much of our information, entertainment, commerce, and even government services now on the Internet, our seniors have rapidly become the most digitally divided segment of our society – and with the great benefits the Internet has to offer our aging community, they’re missing out on an opportunity to improve their lives at a most critical point.

What does going online do to help improve the lives of our older adults?  The Internet helps make it possible to age in place; remain where you live and bring important health and support services right into your own home.  Second, it reduces isolation, providing an opportunity to connect with family and friends regardless of geographical distances.

Going online also offers the convenience and financial savings of online shopping.  With most government services now online, older adults can receive important government benefits and services more easily and promptly.  Finally, let’s not forget the entertainment value of the Internet:  playing bridge or scrabble, social networking, watching a video, video chatting with children and grandchildren, and exchanging photos are among just some of the enjoyable activities online.

With so many benefits the Internet has to offer, it’s unfortunate more of our older adults aren’t online.  There are some challenges to getting older adults online that need to be addressed, with perhaps the two most important being relevance to everyday life and unfamiliarity with the technology.   The challenges of adapting to technology later in life are substantial.  However, there are numerous training programs in the communities around the country specifically geared toward older individuals.  The programs – at community centers, libraries, senior centers, religious institutions, and non-profit organizations – are assisting older adults with the tips and tools they need to be safe and responsible users of the Internet (that’s right — online safety and privacy are issues for older adults, too!).  Also, the advances in technology have led to great new devices, such as the tablet, that are more intuitive to use, requiring little or no training to get online.

As far as demonstrating the relevance of going online, there’s not one, most important value.  For some older individuals it could be video chatting with a grandchild who lives across the country.  With another, it could be the importance of social networking and connecting with others to help reduce the isolation and loss that occurs as one gets older.  For someone else, it could be the opportunities of telemedicine and other important health support systems in the home.

Project GOAL is working to demonstrate how older adults are able to enrich their lives by getting online.  While demonstrating the value, we are also working on addressing the challenges.  Check our website www.theprojectgoal.org for our most recent publication that helps inform older adults about how they can stay safe and protect their privacy online.

The Internet offers a world of opportunity for older adults and it’s important that more within this community adopt broadband and get online.

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Debra Berlyn serves as the Executive Director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the President of Consumer Policy Solutions. Ms. Berlyn is a seasoned veteran of telecommunications and consumer policy issues and an advocate for consumers of technology services. She represented AARP on the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several Internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.

Broadband's Impact

Experts Say Partnerships Key for Downtown City Connectivity

‘Simple and regular community engagement is needed.’

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NASHVILLE, June 22, 2022 – While service providers plan on using fiber to revitalize downtown areas, experts say community engagement with local businesses is key to facilitate the construction process.

“Simple and regular community engagement is needed,” Nathan Hoople, senior project manager at engineering consulting firm Ditesco, said at the Fiber Connect conference on June 13.

Ryan Smith, engineering manager of the City of Loveland and Pulse Broadband,  said there is a “cry for downtown city coverage.” Panelists agreed that regular community involvement in the broadband infrastructure process is key to getting more broadband access in downtown areas.

Hoople stated that because fiber infrastructure construction can be costly, partnerships are key to establish trust and having an efficient installation process for downtown project success. This can have a “tremendous impact on long term investment.”

Effective communication with local leaders and workers allows for a more efficient installation process, said Hoople. “Know exactly how you can serve every building on the block, so you don’t have to rip up the sidewalk in three months.”

Darren Archibald from software and cloud company Calix agreed with the service provider and community partner approach to better downtown access. He added that with this, this “build[s] brand credibility and reliability” making the community aware of the service and why it is beneficial.

Smith emphasized that a specific relationship with individuals in public works is critical for downtown construction. It “would help with permitting, inspections, final close outs and to coordinate with other street projects,” said Smith. “Those relationships go a long way.”

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Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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