Groups Launch Effort to Get Broadband to Older US Residents

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Broadband offers many benefits for older U.S. residents, including telemedicine, increased contact with family and friends, and shopping without leaving the house, but they subscribe to the service at a much lower rate than other people, some advocates for the elderly said Tuesday.

In an effort to change that trend, several technology vendors and groups that work with older people on Tuesday launched Project GOAL (Get Older Adults Online), an organization that plans to serve as a clearinghouse for programs and resources. Project GOAL will work with organizations working with the aging population to stress the benefits of broadband and to connect older adults with services such as computer training, said Debra Berlyn, executive director of Project GOAL.

Project GOAL will also sponsor a series of forums to discuss issues related to delivering broadband to older people, Berlyn said.

Older people need technology training programs, they need assistance with online safety, and they need to be shown the benefits of broadband, Berlyn said during a press conference. "Many people don't see the value of the Internet," she said.

Older people can use broadband to shop during bad weather, research medical conditions and use telemedicine services, said Thomas Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), based in New York City. One critical issue that broadband can help older adults with is social isolation, he added.

"So many seniors are very socially isolated and don't have as many face-to-face contacts as they would like to every day," he said. "Technology opens up this amazing channel to connect people across geographies. One of our participants is telling me that he's e-mailing people he went to high school with in West Virginia."

Many OATs participants also use broadband to look for part-time work, said Kamber, who will serve on Project GOAL's advisory committee. "We're finding so many people who want to stay engaged in the workforce," he said. "Many people are working past the age of 60 now, either because they need the money or they want to stay relevant."

Only about 35 percent of U.S. residents over age 65 subscribe to broadband, compared to about 65 percent of the population as a whole, said Blair Levin, executive director of the FCC's Omnibus Broadband Initiative, the group that put together the agency's national broadband plan. That digital divide grows larger for older U.S. residents who are members of racial or ethnic minorities -- only 21 percent of them have broadband service, Levin said.

The FCC's broadband plan proposes a national Digital Literacy Corps to help older people and other groups learn about broadband and computers, but the government alone won't be able to bring broadband to underserved groups, Levin said.

"If the federal government tries to tackle barriers to adoption on its own, it will fail," Levin said. "We must instead draw upon the power of community groups, private companies and government altogether. We must crowd-source adoption."

Among the sponsors of Project GOAL are AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

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