Increased access and the importance of broadband

Older adults are at a risk of decreased use of technologies and thus may not be able to reap their full benefits. The number of barriers to technology adoption and use is large, but access has always been an issue for older age groups. Older adults with little to no technology experience may lack the necessary know-how to use certain technologies, the necessary knowledge to determine whether and when they need to use the technology, the monetary resources to purchase certain devices or subscribe to online-based services, or the ability (e.g., cognitive ability) or resources (e.g., monetary funds, technology support) to learn to use new technologies. However, as we have noted previously, access to these technologies is changing, as greater numbers of older adults are going online and successfully using ICTs.

Although access to Internet-connected devices is growing, not all access is the same. The speed at which an individual can get online and send or retrieve information can have a significant effect on the types of things accessed online as well as can have a significant effect on how those things are used in everyday life—many websites and applications are designed with a high-speed Internet connection in mind, and thus these websites and applications may not load or function properly if an individual tries to navigate to them or use them with a slow Internet connection.

The traditional method for individuals to access the Internet was once through a dial-up connection, which used a telephone line. In recent years, a new type of access has emerged through broadband Internet access, which does not require the use of a telephone line and which is much faster than dial-up. Broadband Internet connections provide a higher speed of data transmission and thus allow the user to access websites and applications that are of higher quality and that require a large amount of data transmission. An example of an application that needs a large amount of data transmission is teleconferencing. The use of programs such as Skype and FaceTime requires a large amount of audio and visual data to be transmitted between devices, necessitating a faster Internet connection through broadband (such programs could not be used on a dial-up connection). Broadband allows for such services as faster website loading, streaming video, and advanced video and animation graphics, to name but a few.

Indeed, in our rapidly evolving technology-based society, broadband Internet connections are almost required in order for individuals to be able to conduct their daily business online. A recent Pew report (Horrigan and Duggan, 2015) found that Americans who do not use broadband Internet connections are "increasingly likely to view lack of broadband as a disadvantage in key areas of life." Between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of Americans who did not use broadband and who indicated that not using broadband was a major disadvantage in finding out about job opportunities and gaining new career skills rose from 36% to 43%. In the same timeframe, the percentage of Americans who did not use broadband and who indicated that this was a disadvantage rose with regard to other topics as well, including the following:

  • • Learning about or accessing government services (rose from 25% to 40%)
  • • Learning new things that may improve or enrich their lives (rose from 23% to 37%)
  • • Getting health information (rose from 27% to 38%)
  • • Keeping up with news and information (rose from 16% to 32%)

With the advantages of having a broadband connection and with the American public recognizing its increased importance, why are some populations still using a slower dial-up connection? As discussed in the previous section, access is an issue that prevents some from being able to use broadband. For individuals in rural areas, broadband may not be available. And those in lower socioeconomic brackets (i.e., poorer individuals and families) may not be able to afford a faster Internet connection even if it was available. Yet, in the case of older adults (a population that is also more likely than others to have dial-up rather than broadband), not all live in the rural countryside nor are all poor. Then why are many older adults still using dial-up connections?

Competence and confidence in technology use may be a key factor in why some older adults opt not to use broadband. As frequently cited throughout this book, older adults, particularly those with little to no technology experience, are not always quick to try new technologies or learn new technologies; they may wish to devote cognitive efforts to other activities or may be under the impression that they are "too old" to learn something new. The flexibility of information gathering, communication, and activities provided by a broadband connection may be overwhelming to older adults just getting started with using the Internet, and they may prefer a slower connection because it restricts them to the bare basics and bare essentials of what they need to do online. Or they may not be aware of the distinctions between dial-up and broadband connections.

Expanding on this idea, Lelia Green (2010) proposes that

People prioritise the things that are important to them ... until and unless they see a reason to want to do something else with the internet, such as watching television programmes that they have missed, which broadcasters are increasingly making possible, they are content with the level of service provided by dial-up. (p. 74)

An example Green brings up is that of email, an Internet application that is "well-serviced by dial-up." Most older adults who use the Internet use it primarily for communication purposes via email with friends and family; because email does not necessarily require a broadband connection, those older adults who use the Internet just for the purposes of email may refrain from devoting the cost and the cognitive effort to learn broadband when they can stick with what they know.

Despite what the preferences of an individual older adult may be, a CCRC looking to advance the technology capabilities of their community as well as teach its residents how to best use those technologies would do well to consider the implementation of broadband Internet and to implement a training program designed with broadband as the default and assumed connection speed (see Figure 9.1). Although some services, such

Photo from a technology training session using a wireless broadband Internet connection

Figure 9.1 Photo from a technology training session using a wireless broadband Internet connection.

as email, do not require broadband connectivity, many others (such as teleconferencing or the use of online health websites) do.

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