Broadband technology allows users to access the internet and other services and devices that utilize high-speed internet access. Consumers use broadband connections for voice, video, and other data services. An increasing percentage of Americans have a broadband connection at home. Older Americans continue to lag behind other age groups
Ensuring broadband access, affordability, and training is essential. It enables older people to benefit fully from technologies that improve quality of life. And it allows them to age in place. Broadband can facilitate access to services and activities that contribute to successful aging. These include health care services, social contacts, employment, recreation, civic engagement, and entertainment. In order to have these options, high-speed networks must be available and support bandwidth-intensive applications for a rapidly growing user base.
Broadband is especially difficult to deploy in rural areas. It is easier to lay down new communications lines in urban areas with higher population density. Even in urban areas, broadband is not always available in neighborhoods with high concentrations of people living in poverty. In communities that have broadband internet access, choices are limited. Most households can typically get broadband access from the cable company, which sends data through lines also used to deliver television signals, or the telephone company. With such limited competition, providers have few incentives to reduce prices or upgrade networks.
Some local governments have begun using innovative methods to address digital divide disparities. Community broadband networks are one way they are trying to provide access to a wider range of consumers and households. Targeted and transparent state or local tax credits are another way to promote broadband to underserved areas (see also Community Broadband Internet section of this chapter).
The federal government has also become involved. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the National Broadband Plan to increase U.S. households’ broadband adoption rate from 65 percent in 2010 to 90 percent by 2020. The National Broadband Plan proposed a number of digital literacy recommendations to help more people use broadband technologies effectively (referred to as “usability”) such as strategies to build the skills and confidence of users and improving user interface design. These evolving strategies can bring broadband access to those who cannot otherwise receive it, including those in public housing, rural areas, and other places where access may be difficult.
Consumers’ use of broadband internet access also raises privacy issues. The FCC has addressed this in a rulemaking proceeding that seeks to give consumers greater control over their personal information. (For more information on digital privacy and security, see also this chapter’s section on Privacy Protections in the Use of Telecommunication and Utility Services, as well as Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Protection—Digital Privacy and Security.)
BROADBAND INTERNET SERVICES: Policy
Creating universal, affordable, high-speed broadband
Policymakers and the private sector should ensure universal access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband throughout the country, including for underserved populations.
Policymakers should implement an aggressive national broadband deployment strategy that includes specific targets in terms of broadband penetration, coverage, and usage, and establishes the U.S. as the world leader in providing all its citizens with access to the fastest and most affordable broadband services.
Every household should have access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband.
Innovative approaches for the delivery of high-speed broadband services should be encouraged.
Citizens, government entities, educational institutions, and businesses should receive tax credits and other incentives to adopt broadband technologies. These efforts should encourage adoption by underserved populations, including those who face financial or physical impediments, such as older people and individuals with disabilities or low incomes.
Policymakers should fund and promote large-scale pilot projects that provide high-speed connectivity to underserved populations—including those who face financial or physical impediments, such as older people and individuals with disabilities or low incomes, enabling them to gain access to promising tele-health, personal-health, and independent-living technologies.
Policymakers should ensure that all residential consumers have the ability to choose from among multiple, competing broadband networks and that:
- consumers with low incomes have affordable broadband options;
- the marketplace includes low switching barriers so that consumers are unimpeded in their ability to change service providers;
- consumers have the right to use their internet connections to gain access to, use, send, receive, or offer any lawful content or services they choose over the internet;
- consumers can use any applications or services made available over the internet or in connection with access to the internet;
- consumers have the right to attach any device to the operator’s broadband network as long as the device does not damage or degrade other subscribers’ use of the network; and
- adequately funded programs are available to support consumers, including older adults, who need assistance to adopt and benefit from new technologies and devices.
Policymakers should ensure the collection and public reporting of timely, standardized information that can provide a full and accurate measure of U.S. broadband deployment. The information should include the availability, prices, adoption, and interoperability of broadband networks.
Regulators should undertake a comprehensive review of prior decisions and policies that have adversely affected the deployment, subscription, and use of broadband and take appropriate actions to reverse such decisions or policies or otherwise mitigate their effects.
- These policies should incorporate consumer protections and should not shift costs or place an unfair burden on taxpayers or ratepayers.