Access to New Technology in Kentucky

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March 12, 2014

Senior citizens are as tech-savvy today as they have ever been. Much of this has been driven by the innovation taking place in our economy every day, as well as the increased adoption of technology by our children and grandchildren. To stay connected with our families in the 21st century, many seniors have changed the way they communicate, but the new technology our seniors depend on is not available everywhere. This is why it is important that our legislative leaders should carefully consider every opportunity they have to take steps to better connect our communities by encouraging private investment in our communications infrastructure.

As president of RetireSafe, a grassroots organization representing 400,000 older Americans (some 3,300 in Kentucky), many over the age of 70, I support efforts to pass legislation Kentucky Senate Bill 99, a bill that will encourage private companies to invest in the advanced broadband networks that we see as a great benefit to every senior in Kentucky. Unfortunately, AARP and others that oppose this bill have resorted to exaggerated charges to scare lawmakers. The truth is the policies contained in SB 99 represent a huge step toward enabling more Kentucky seniors to have access to the advanced technologies they are using more and more in their daily lives. In addition to these  technological advances, there are safeguards in SB 99 that fully protect seniors in lower-population areas who have not yet transitioned to these newer technologies and may wish to keep their basic home phone service.

We have heard AARP’s claims that passage of this bill will result in seniors losing access to their basic home phone service, a very serious charge. If that were true, we would also oppose the bill. However, this charge couldn’t be further from the truth.  Despite their charges, I can assure you that nowhere in SB 99 does it say that consumers of any age will be forced to lose their basic local exchange service and have it replaced with a wireless device.

While opponents are busy with scare tactics, they miss the bigger picture. The policies that expand broadband access are greatly needed by seniors. According to AARP’s own 2013 report titled, A Connection for All Ages: Enabling the Benefits of High-Speed Internet Access for Older Adults,“ as the value and reach of broadband-enabled content and services continue to grow, the costs of not having a broadband connection are likely to increase exponentially.” As more and more information goes online which can directly benefit our seniors, those who do not have access will continue to fall further and further behind.

In fact, recent research done by the Pew Internet Project shows that, “30% of adults age 65+ and 54% of those ages 50-64 years old have looked online for health information in the past year.” While these numbers are still below those of younger Americans, this shows that growing numbers of seniors are recognizing the value of having access to online health information.

Most Kentuckians have already opted for newer technology that has greatly enriched their lives. Seniors cannot be left behind. This new technology will not only enhance their lives, but in many cases it will save their lives. The scare tactics of AARP and others should be rejected, and older Kentuckians who stand to gain so much should be rewarded by the passage of SB 99.