woman sitting at table working on laptop

(Credit: 10’000 Hours / Getty Images)

As the federal government transitions between broadband access programs, one aging services leader is asking that the affordable connectivity program specifically target older adults in subsidized housing.

The Federal Communications Commission recently announced a 60-day transition period to the Affordable Connectivity Program, which modifies and extends the Emergency Broadband Benefit. LeadingAge has asked the FCC to consider specific fixes to improve digital inclusion among federally subsidized senior housing communities.

The EBB, adopted in early 2021, provided a short-term, pandemic-era discount on internet services and connected devices. The ACP extends those discounts, creating a permanent program to increase digital access.

Although the EBB improved connectivity, quality of life and health outcomes, the effort fell short for federally subsidized housing communities, which struggled to enroll residents, according to LeadingAge. 

“The extension and modification of the EBB provides an invaluable opportunity to fix participation barriers and ease access to the internet at affordable senior housing properties,” LeadingAge Director of Housing Operations and Policy Juliana Bilowich wrote to the FCC

LeadingAge called on the FCC to use the ACP to fix those barriers to participation, including lack of data-sharing between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FCC, no path for automatic eligibility verification for HUD multifamily tenants, and challenges with bulk internet provisions throughout HUD communities taking advantage of the discount.

Most HUD-assisted senior housing communities lack access to wall-to-wall internet, affecting both property operations and resident well-being, according to Bilowich. 

“Connectivity is a critical determinant of health; older adults need access to affordable internet services in their homes for telehealth services and to combat social isolation,” she wrote. “With limited options for accessing the internet, older adults with low incomes have been left out of common solutions during the crisis, including telemedicine and remote options for staying socially connected.”

According to a recent Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies survey of affordable senior housing service coordinators, only 38% of residents of affordable senior housing communities had access to reliable internet and / or a device. 

LeadingAge specifically asked the FCC to provide automatic eligibility for HUD-assisted tenants, incentivize program enrollment on a building-wide basis, include installation and set up in financial support, disregard past or present debt with an internet service provider in program eligibility, increase device discounts, adopt broad eligible equipment definitions to encompass the range of devices needed to meet the needs of senior housing residents, and expand eligibility for a discounted device from one per household to one per person.