Part I of a two-part series.
Last week, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition held its annual Public Policy, Media, and Telecom Symposium. This year’s event, “The Future of Media: Policies, People and Players,” included panels on media portrayals of people of color, digital technology in the classroom, voting, and financial literacy. The second day of the symposium started with an informative panel titled “Tele-everything: Broadband & Remote Access to Energy, Health and the Economy,” which discussed the broad implications of broadband technology in the energy, education, and health sectors.
Panel experts included Maurita Coley, COO of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; Debra Berlyn, President of Consumer Policy Solutions; Kimberly Marcus, Deputy Director of the Office of Minority Business Development (MBDA) at the Department of Commerce; and Dr. Nsenga Burton, Executive Director of the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs (NAMDE). Joseph Miller, Deputy Director at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, moderated the discussion.
Engaging Older Americans Means Talking About More Than Health Applications
The audience was particularly interested in understanding the role of the Internet in the lives of senior citizens, and most of the conversation focused on challenges and opportunities for seniors in the broadband world.
Miller started by asking panel experts to discuss some of the broadband and technology issues specific to older Americans. National numbers show that adults aged 65 and older have among the lowest home broadband adoption rates of any group, he pointed out.
“Older adults want some of the fun stuff as well, not just the health information,” said Berlyn. She said that the number one reason older Americans choose not to subscribe to broadband services at home is that they believe the Internet has low relevance for them. She pointed out, “The fact is that once they get online, they love it!”
While telemedicine applications are important for aging Americans, they are interested in more than just monitoring blood sugar levels, one of the panelists said. Subscribing to broadband in the home offers so many different and exciting opportunities; these kinds of benefits should also be promoted to older Americans if we want them to be interested. They might start to understand why broadband is relevant if they knew more about the “fun” side of home Internet access.
According to a recent Pew study, 67 percent of non-broadband users among Americans aged 65 and older cited a “lack of need” as the primary reason they are not using the Internet at home. Only 26 percent of people aged 16 to 44 and 46 percent of people aged 45 to 64 cite “lack of need.”
Computer Ownership and Internet Usage Lag for Older Americans of Color
Computer ownership, Internet usage, and home broadband for older Americans is significantly less than for any other demographic group. Adults aged 65 and older comprise almost half (49 percent) of non-Internet users overall. Looking at members of the G.I. Generation, those born in 1936 or earlier (ages 77 and older in 2013), a full 62 percent don’t use the Internet or email at all.
The Consumer Policy Solutions President said that broadband adoption rates among older Americans of color are significantly lower than the overall rates of adoption for adults 65 and older. She quoted NTIA data showing that 37.5 percent of African Americans in the 65+ age groups have broadband at home. This is compared to overall figures showing that 54.8 percent of adults 65 and older subscribe to broadband in the home.
Berlyn, who is also Executive Director of the Project to Get Older Americans Online (Project GOAL), provided great insights on the opportunities and obstacles for seniors on the Web. She cited resources like AT&T Digital Life, which makes home energy savings possible. This is a great service that seniors can take advantage of, she said, adding that it’s one of many Internet-enabled tools that can help older Americans age in place.
The panel provided attendees with practical examples of how broadband transforms daily life. They discussed how remote health monitoring applications help seniors access preventative care resources from their home. Instead of visiting the doctor’s office every week, for example, seniors can use home monitoring devices, which reduce travel costs and transportation-related injuries. It also frees the family member who may have had to accompany an older relative to the hospital.
In the second half of the panel, Miller led the panelists in a discussion on ways to increase adoption, with a focus on cost and entrepreneurship. Part II of this article will focus on those aspects of the panel.