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Broadband's Impact

Debra Berlyn: A Tale of Two Seniors in the Age of the Coronavirus

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Photo courtesy of Debra Berlyn

Broadband and technology devices are most certainly game changers is this age of COVID-19.

For the older adult community, the benefits of innovation have opened incredible opportunities. For some of our seniors, technology has made an incredible, perhaps life-saving difference during this crisis. However, there are many striking “haves and have-nots” within the senior community. Offering tremendous benefits and opportunities, it is critical that technology reach more within our older adult population.

Here is a real tale of two seniors, providing an example of what is currently represented within the aging community:

Shirley is a 96-year-old woman living in an independent living facility. Before COVID-19, she was extremely social and engaged in her community, having frequent meals around town with her friends and family.

Post pandemic, she is confined to her apartment, has meals delivered, can only leave to walk in a defined area around the back of the building, and can only interact with a limited number of workers in her building. She doesn’t have broadband, and her only “device” is her old wireless phone, used to connect by voice to loved ones.

Ron is a 78-year-old man living in his own home, retired but still continuing to do some consulting work that has him chatting throughout the day with colleagues on Skype. He’s comfortable on his home computer (with high-speed broadband access) and on his smartphone, which has Bluetooth connectivity directly to his hearing aids.

During this pandemic, he spends more time video chatting with his extended family and playing games with his grandkids over an SMS platform.

Both Ron and Shirley are confined to their homes, but Ron is connected to family and friends and continues to maintain his usual lifestyle, while Shirley is isolated and has a greatly diminished quality of life. The difference is broadband and all of the innovative devices broadband enables. While Ron is connected to a variety of devices at home, there are many more tech innovations that older adults can experience today.

Pandemic provides opportunity for older Americans to explore broadband devices

This pandemic provides the perfect opportunity to explore the vast array of technology that is available today to enhance aging in America. 

In addition to the home computer, smart phone and tablet, another valuable innovation for seniors is the virtual assistant, enabled with artificial intelligence – such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. According to a recent national survey by AARP, 2020 Tech Trends of the 50+ , ownership of virtual assistants is growing.

In 2019, 18 percent of those 60-69 owned one of these devices and 12 percent of those age 70+ had one in their home. In addition to playing music, this device can provide information on the weather, daily news updates, answer questions, turn lights on and off, and perform many other functions. The particular of AI is continuous learning on the part of the device to better meet the needs, preferences, and interests of its user.

Wearable devices, such as fitness and health trackers, are another technology beneficial for the health and welfare of seniors. While we may not be able to maintain our usual activities, there are opportunities to get out and walk and track our steps or take online fitness classes indoors. These devices typically link to smart health apps that may also monitor blood pressure and heart rate.

In some cases, these apps will even communicate this information to a health provider. Adoption rates are growing for wearables as well, with 16 percent of those 60-69 and 11 percent age 70+ now using these tech devices.

Smart home technologies also offers tremendous benefits to older Americans

Let’s not forget Smart Home technology, also offering tremendous benefits for older adults. Advanced safety and security features include smart thermostats and video “doorbells.”

While video doorbells have become extremely popular with all homeowners, there’s a great advantage for an older senior to see who is at the door and speak to that person without having to leave the bedroom. Home appliances, small and large, are getting smart as well, offering benefits for those older individuals wanting to age in place.

These are just some of the tech options that Ron can add to his portfolio today, to build a “smarter” home and enhance his daily life. For Shirley, her needs are very basic to connect her with family and reduce the isolation during this critical time.

Technology innovations can rewrite this “tale of two seniors” and build a brighter technology present for all older adults.

To truly build this tech future, we must extend the availability of broadband to all aging adults and ensure that there is investment in advanced high-speed networks to continue to enable innovation to flourish.

 Debra Berlyn is executive director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL) and president of Consumer Policy Solutions, a firm centered on developing public policies addressing the interests of consumers and the marketplace.

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.

Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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Digital Inclusion

W. Antoni Sinkfield: To Succeed in 21st Century, Communities Need to Get Connected Now

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community and understand its problems.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Reverend W. Antoni Sinkfield, Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary.

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community, understand its problems, and provide support in challenging times. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been hard not to notice that my parishioners, and folks across the country, are divided into two groups: those with access to the internet, and those without.

In 2022, digital inclusion is still something we strive for in poor and rural areas throughout America. The lack of reliable internet access is an enormous disadvantage to so many people in all facets of their lives.

To fully participate in today’s society, all people, no matter who they are and no matter where they live, must have access to the internet. Think of the remote learning every child had to experience when schools were closed, and the challenges that families faced when they didn’t have access to a quality connection.

It’s a question of plain fairness.

Politicians have been talking for decades about bringing high-speed internet access to everyone, however many families continue to be left behind. More than 42 million people across the country lack affordable, reliable broadband connections, and as many as 120 million people who cannot get online are stuck with slow service that does not allow them to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer.

People of color are disproportionately affected by lack of broadband access

Lack of broadband disproportionately affects communities of color, as well: 35 percent of Americans of Latino descent and 29 percent of African-Americans do not have a broadband connection at home.

Every person in rural towns, urban neighborhoods, and tribal communities needs and deserves equal and full economic and educational opportunities. Studies show that students without home access to the internet are less likely to attend college and face a digital skills gap equivalent to three years’ worth of schooling. Small businesses, which are the cornerstone of rural and urban communities alike, need broadband to reach their customers and provide the service they expect.

Simply put, having access to the internet in every community is vital to its ability to succeed in the 21st century.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to take major steps toward a solution. Last year, Congress passed President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $65 billion to expand broadband access and affordability. It is essential that we use this money to connect as many unserved and underserved communities as we can – and as quickly as we can.

Different places need different options to bridge the digital divide

As we bridge the digital divide, we must listen to those who have been left behind and make sure that we deploy solutions that fit their needs. Different places need different options – so it’s important that all voices are heard, and the technology that works best for the community is made readily available.

All people need access to broadband to learn, work, shop, pay bills, and get efficient healthcare.

When I talk to my parishioners, they speak about how much of their lives have transitioned online and are frustrated about not having reliable access. They do not care about the nuances of how we bring broadband to everyone. They just want to have it now – and understandably so.

This means that we must explore all solutions possible to provide high-speed broadband with the connection and support they need, when they need it, regardless of where they live.

Now is the time to meet those struggling where they are, stop dreaming about bridging the divide, and just get it done. Our government has a rare opportunity to fix an enormous problem, using money already approved for the purpose. Let’s make sure they do so in a manner that works for the communities they’re trying to help.

Rev. W. Antoni Sinkfield, Ph.D., serves as Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary, and is an ordained Itinerate Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. 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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Broadband's Impact

Biden Delivers Remarks on Free Broadband to Qualified Households

Biden compared the value of broadband to telephone service, and drew parallels to the historic effort to connect the country.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden delivering remarks at the White Hose Rose Garden

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 – President Joe Biden emphasized the essential nature of broadband during a public appearance on Monday.

Biden delivered remarks at the White House Rose Garden on the day’s earlier announcement that the federal government would work with both regional and national broadband providers to provide essentially free broadband to qualified households.

“Too many Americans simply cannot afford to get connected even if there is access to get connected. So, they go without high-speed internet, or they sacrifice other necessities in order to make it work,” Biden said.

“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer – it is a necessity,” Biden said. “That is why the bipartisan infrastructure law included $65 billion to make sure we expand access to broadband internet in every region of the country.”

Biden also laid out the criteria for eligible households to take advantage of Affordable Connectivity Program, which when paired with the effort by ISPs to keep 100 Mbps download services under $30, provides free internet to consumers.

“If your household income is twice the federal poverty level or less – that is that’s about $55,000 per year for a family of four – or $27,000 for an individual – or a member of your household is on Medicaid or supplementary [social] security income or a number of other programs – you are eligible.”

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