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Digital Inclusion

‘Senior 2 Senior’ Program of Pennsylvania Co-op Helps Older Americans Adopt Broadband, Adapt to Coronavirus



Photo of Tri-Co’s Bill Gerski at a Seniors 2 Seniors class courtesy Jim Fetzer/Tri-County REC

June 5, 2020 — Tri-Co Connections, a subsidiary of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, has taken the rural digital divide in Pennsylvania into its own hands through not only fiber broadband buildout but community collaboration and a hands-on class for senior citizens.

According to Bill Gerski, senior vice president of business development for Tri-Co, no one was previously willing to build broadband infrastructure in northern Pennsylvania because it was not economically sensible.

Tri-Co applied for government grants in counties that can service only about 5.8 houses per mile. So far, the company has raised $51 million of what it deems will be a $77 million project.

Gerski estimated that it will take about five years to provide service to seven rural Pennsylvania counties with fiber broadband, extending about 3,000 miles.

However, Gerski noted two potential adoption issues. First, 42 percent are “seasonals,” meaning they solely come to northern Pennsylvania for vacation and do not live there full-time. Second, more than 40 percent of the targeted area is made up of senior citizens, who might not connect due to limited digital literacy.

They also might have the “fear of being reeducated,” Gerski said, as learning how to connect to broadband and use a computer can be a daunting task for those who do not have experience using 21st century technology.

Bridging the digital literacy gap for seniors

After consulting with community stakeholders, Tri-Co decided to start a program with Potter County to bridge the digital literacy gap for seniors.

The community came together to support the endeavor. Banks donated money to buy computers and other equipment in order to promote online banking in the older demographic.

“The area high school students are a logical resource to support the senior citizens as they learn about the Internet since this generation of students has grown up with technology as a part of their daily lives,” the Tri-Co website said of the program, dubbed Seniors 2 Seniors. “They are a true ‘tech-savvy’ population and can provide valuable support to older adults who are learning to navigate and use new technological skills and information.”

Tri-Co identified six services that seniors were missing out on without the ability to use a computer: connecting with family through Skype or other programs, telemedicine, online government resources, shopping, online employment and improved cognitive functions (mental sharpness and hand-eye coordination).

Applications for broadband also include telemedicine

Jim Kockler, Potter County’s administrator of human services, told Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., in August that not only will the program help senior citizens to communicate with loved ones who live far away via Skype or FaceTime, it will also teach them to use telemedicine, order their prescriptions or pay their bills online.

The announcement of the first class in Potter County drew interest from about 40 seniors, but there was only room for 25, said Gerski.

During hour-long weekly sessions, senior citizens and high school seniors gather in a senior center for mentored internet classes.

“It’s a hands-on program led by an instructor who has vast experience in the field of information technology,” Potter County Education Council Executive Director Dr. Michele Moore explained to Tri-Co. “Additionally, the seniors are being supported in the classroom by senior high school students who have an interest in and experience with computers and technology.”

The young teachers began with preliminary skills such as understanding a keyboard and creating passwords.

Gerski called the eight-week-long course a huge success and said he plans to implement it in the other six counties where Tri-Co is building fiber broadband.

“A lot of times, our senior citizens hear all this negative stuff about the internet, but they don’t hear enough about the positive benefits,” Moore said.

Gerski said it was rewarding to guide a senior through the basics of computer use and then watch them use Skype to talk with their grandkids.

“Now they can go to Amazon and order stuff,” said Gerski. “They couldn’t do that before, and a lot of them live alone.”

‘I don’t want to get left behind,’ pleads one senior in the online course

“I don’t want to get left behind,” a 94-year old student in the course said.

For another Senior 2 Senior student, 68-year old Carol Cole, the computer classes could not have come at a better time. Shortly after completing the training, Cole was forced to hunker down at home to avoid contagion from the coronavirus.

Her technological lifeline was email, a skill she relearned and improved during Senior 2 Senior.

“Knowing more and doing more on the computer is important, especially through crises like this,” said Cole.

Before the Senior 2 Senior training, Cole said she felt stuck trying to learn new skills on the computer. Now she knows how to email, Facebook, online shop, and online bank.

Cole lamented that older adults tend to be afraid“to try new things on a computer. “Working with the senior class was fun,” said Cole. “The kids were energetic.”

The seniors who complete the course receive a certificate and a free installation and free first month of broadband service from Tri-Co.

“If I would have run fiber before teaching them how to use a computer, I would have just had a house that didn’t take any service,” Gerski said.

The ultimate goal, Gerski said, is to provide broadband service and encourage the youth to eventually move back to the area and increase economic development in rural Pennsylvania.

Adrienne Patton was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. She studied English rhetoric and writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She grew up in a household of journalists in South Florida. Her father, the late Robes Patton, was a sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel who covered the Miami Heat, and is for whom the press lounge in the American Airlines Arena is named.

Digital Inclusion

Broadband is Affordable for Middle Class, NCTA Claims

According to analysis, the middle class spends on average $69 per month on internet service.



Photo of Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at NCTA

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Even as policymakers push initiatives to make broadband less expensive, primarily for low-income Americans, broadband is already generally affordable for the middle class, argued Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at industry group NCTA, the internet and television association. 

Availability of broadband is not enough, many politicians and experts argue, if other barriers – e.g., price – prevent widespread adoption. Much focus has been directed toward boosting adoption among low-income Americans through subsidies like the Affordable Connectivity Program, but legally, middle-class adoption must also be considered. In its notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration required each state to submit a “middle-class affordability plan.”

During a webinar held earlier this month, Cimerman, who works for an organization that represents cable operators, defined the middle class as those who earn $45,300–$76,200, basing these boundaries on U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 2020. And based on the text of an Federal Communications Commission action from 2016, he set the threshold of affordability for broadband service at two percent of monthly household income.

According to his analysis, the middle class, thus defined, spends on average $69 per month on internet service. $69 is about 1.8 percent of monthly income for those at the bottom of Cimerman’s middle class and about 1.1 percent of monthly income for those at the top. Both figures fall within the 2-percent standard, and Cimerman stated that lower earners tended to spend slightly less on internet than the $69-per-month average.

Citing US Telecom’s analysis of the FCC’s Urban Rate Survey, Cimerman presented data that show internet prices dropped substantially from 2015 to 2021 – decreasing about 23 percent, 26 percent, and 39 percent for “entry-level,” “most popular” and “highest-speed” residential plans, respectively. And despite recent price hikes on products such as gas, food, and vehicles, Cimerman said, broadband prices had shrunk 0.1 percent year-over-year as of September 2022.

Widespread adoption is important from a financial as well as an equity perspective, experts say. Speaking at the AnchorNets 2022 conference, Matt Kalmus, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, argued that providers rely on high subscription rates to generate badly needed network revenues.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Advisory Committee Approves Strategies to Advance Digital Equity

In 2021, the FCC charged the council in its mission to prevent digital discrimination.



Photo of Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion at Connected Nation and chair of the CEDC.

WASHINGTON, November 8, 2022 – The Federal Communication Commission’s Communications Equity and Diversity Council on Monday unanimously recommended strategies to minimize digital discrimination and advance digital equity, advocating stakeholder collaboration, the promotion of affordable broadband service, workforce diversity initiatives, state and local incentivization of partnerships with small minority and women-owned businesses, and more.

The new report’s three main sections lay out best practices to prevent discrimination by internet service providers, to ensure the equitable dispersal of funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and to advance universal access for marginalized populations, respectively.

The IIJA allocated $65 billion to broadband funding. $42.45 billion from that pot went to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which will issue grants to the states based on relative needs. States will subsequently run their own sub-grant processes.

In 2021, the FCC charged the CEDC with assisting the agency in its mission to prevent discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.

“This was a complex and critically important task for the CEDC, and I thank the members of the three working groups who worked so diligently to provide this expert guidance,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Earlier this year the Commission adopted a notice of inquiry on preventing and eliminating digital discrimination, and I look forward to incorporating these findings into that effort.”

“I applaud the chairwoman for trusting the council to contribute to the commission’s efforts to gather information from diverse stakeholders across the country,” said Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion at Connected Nation and chair of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council.

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Digital Inclusion

Not All Affordable Connectivity Enrollees Are Using the Benefit: A Look into 30 Major Metro Areas

‘The percentage of households in major metro areas…using the program is smaller than the percentage of households enrolled.’



Photo from USAC's web site

Since the launch of the Affordable Connectivity Program last January, millions of households have benefitted from the $30 per month connection subsidy to help pay for their broadband bills. The program serves as a necessary bridge in a failed marketplace, dominated nationally by a small number of regional monopolies driven by shareholders to charge the highest price possible.

Along the way, ILSR and a host of other research and advocacy organizations have been digging into the American Connectivity Program data in order to better understand how the program has operated over the last year, and how we can work collectively to improve education and outreach efforts and make sure as many households as possible will benefit. From this work we created an ACP Dashboard to collect and visualize useful data to support the critical work of digital navigators, nonprofits, and local governments.

Explore the Affordable Connectivity Program here, and read more about why we created it.

Recognizing the Gap

In addition to tracking how much of the $15.5 billion fund ($1.3 billion was carried over from the Emergency Broadband Benefit and $14.2 billion was allocated for the ACP] is left and predicting when it’ll run out (April 2026 at current rates), keeping an eye on state- and zip-code level use and enrollment, and following what types of connections households are using the benefit to pay for, an important part of this work has been tracking data across major metropolitan areas across the country.

As we continue to analyze the data and refine our tools to support work at the local level, we have found that the percentage of households in major metro areas (and likely elsewhere) that are actually using the program is smaller than the percentage of households enrolled in the program.

While a community’s ACP enrollment rate has been understood as an indicator both of its overall need for financial support and the effectiveness of local outreach efforts to sign up eligible households to participate in the ACP, the rate of claimed subscribers reflects the real effect of the program on that community. Here, we take a look at what the gap between enrollment and subscription looks like across 30 major metropolitan areas.

Currently, the major metro areas with the highest ACP enrollment rates are Detroit (58 percent of eligible households enrolled), Cleveland (58 percent), Columbus (55 percent), Baltimore (53 percent), and Los Angeles (52 percent). Only Cleveland, Columbus, and Los Angeles, however, also appear among the top five areas for greatest percentage of eligible households using the benefit (Cleveland: 46 percent claimed subscribers, Columbus: 45 percent, Los Angeles: 41 percent).

When we dive further into the metro area data, we can get some sense of why some cities are succeeding in not only enrolling households, but making sure they are using the benefit. For instance, San Antonio is on the list of top-five metro areas for use, despite being ranked 11th for enrollment.

At present, only 16 percent of enrolled San Antonio residents are not using the benefit. Why? The city has dedicated resources to staffing field organizers, who go door to door in low-income zip codes and talk to residents about the program, offering information both in English and in Spanish. Similar efforts are underway in Los Angeles, where there is only a 12 point difference between enrolled households and those using the benefit. Los Angeles also has a coalition of groups doing their own funded and unfunded community outreach to raise awareness of the program.

On the other hand, the following areas have relatively high enrollment rates but show large discrepancies when looking at the number of claimed subscribers:

Washington, DC: 49 percent of eligible households are enrolled, but only 17 percent are using the benefit.

Atlanta: 49 percent of eligible households are enrolled, but only 17 percent are using the benefit.

Detroit: 51 percent of eligible households are enrolled, but only 19 percent are using the benefit.

Baltimore: 53 percent of eligible households are enrolled, but only 24 percent are using the benefit.

Philadelphia: 48 percent of eligible households are enrolled, but only 20 percent are using the benefit.

Cleveland and Detroit both have an enrollment rate of 58, but Cleveland has a significantly higher percentage of households using the benefit, likely the result of years of dedicated efforts by DigitalC and the Cleveland Foundation to close the digital divide. Portland has the greatest relative discrepancy between enrollees and households using the benefit, with more than two thirds of its enrolled households not using the credit.

Reflecting the Gap in Our Tools

To reflect the significance of these gaps, while an earlier version of our ACP Dashboard focused on enrollment rates, we’ve adjusted our methodology to use the Total Claimed Subscriber number to calculate current ACP usage rates and predict future funding levels. We believe using Total Claimed Subscribers reflects a more faithful representation of usage rates and the rate of funds being depleted. A future iteration of the dashboard may further investigate the discrepancy between percentage enrolled and percentage claimed.

Explaining (and overcoming) this gap between enrollment is important, but we need more data to do so. It’s possible that some ISPs are deciding after some period of time that it’s not worth the resources to administer it and participate. It could also result from families getting enrolled by their ISP but not understanding that the benefit is available to them, or not having the digital literacy skills to use it.

The gap could also result from the way that the FCC verifies households’ eligibility, and regularly de-enrolls households it (sometimes erroneously) decides no longer qualify. We need more granular data from the Universal Services Administrative Company and the Federal Communications Commission to better understand why this gap between enrolled and claimed users continues to grow.

The policy implications and our analysis of the efficacy and future of this program stand: if anything, these numbers reflect less success in education and outreach efforts nationwide.

Check out the ACP Dashboard for more information. Special thanks to Drew Garner for his insight and feedback on the USAC data.

Authored by Emma Gautier, this article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Municipal Broadband project on October 26, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

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