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As the federal government transitions between broadband access programs, a leader in aging services calls for the affordable connectivity program to specifically target seniors in subsidized housing.
The Federal Communications Commission recently announced a 60-day transition period to the Affordable Connectivity Program, which modifies and expands the emergency broadband benefit. LeadingAge has asked the FCC to consider specific solutions to improve digital inclusion among federally-subsidized senior housing communities.
The EBB, adopted in early 2021, offered a short-term pandemic discount on internet services and connected devices. The CPA is expanding these discounts, creating an ongoing program to increase digital access.
While the EBB improved connectivity, quality of life and health outcomes, the effort failed for federally-subsidized housing communities, which struggled to enroll residents, according to LeadingAge .
“The extension and modification of the EBB offers an invaluable opportunity to remove barriers to participation and facilitate Internet access in affordable senior housing,” Bilowich wrote.
LeadingAge called on the FCC to use the CPA to remove these barriers to participation, including the lack of data sharing between the HUD and the FCC, the lack of an automatic eligibility verification pathway for multi-family HUD tenants. and the challenges of mass Internet offerings in HUD communities leveraging the discount.
Most HUD-assisted senior housing communities do not have wall-to-wall internet access, impacting real estate operations and the well-being of residents, according to letter to FCC from Juliana Bilowich , Senior Director of Housing Operations and Policy.
“Connectivity is a critical determinant of health; seniors need access to affordable home internet services for telehealth services and to address social isolation, ”Bilowich wrote. “With limited options for accessing the internet, low-income seniors have been left out of mainstream solutions during the crisis, including telemedicine and remote options to stay socially connected. “
According to a recent Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies survey of affordable senior housing service coordinators, only 38% of residents had access to an Internet connection and / or a reliable device.
LeadingAge has specifically requested the FCC to provide the following fixes: provide automatic eligibility for HUD-assisted tenants, encourage building-wide program enrollment, include installation and setup in financial support, do disregard past or current debt with an Internet service provider in program eligibility, increase device discounts, adopt broad definitions of qualifying equipment to encompass the range of devices needed to meet customer needs residents of retirement homes and extend eligibility for a discounted device from one per household to one per person.