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Amp Your Internet! – Senior Planet

What does it take to get decent internet service?   It took $10,000 for Aaron Epstein, a 90-year-old man in North Hollywood, California.  He was so frustrated with his slow AT&T internet service that he spent $10,000 on newspaper ads telling the company’s CEO to do a better job.     Money talked.  AT&T sent out workers right away to extend faster fiber optic cable to his house.

Digital Deserts

Not having internet today is somewhat akin to not having a telephone in the 1950s when the last homes in the country were wired for phone service.   Lack of access to the Internet isolates seniors from modern life., stranding them in a ‘digital desert.”

It’s a fact that seniors are second class citizens when it comes to internet access.  A project called Aging Connected: Exposing the Hidden Connectivity Crisis for Older Adults  commissioned by OATS, Senior Planet’s parent organization,  found that 22 million seniors—almost half of all older Americans–don’t have internet at home, with Blacks, Latinos and rural Americans being the most internet deprived.  Aging Connected aims to remedy that lack. If you know anyone who needs help getting connected, please tell them help is available – and help them sign up.

In the meantime here are some low cost strategies to help you bridge the connectivity gap.

Use your phone’s mobile hotspot

If you have a smartphone, which most of us do, you can use your cell signal to create a Wi-Fi signal that will connect to a laptop or Wi-Fi enabled tablet.  The same 4G signal you use to watch a YouTube Video will allow you to create a mobile hotspot and get on the internet. This article tells you how.

You can also purchase an inexpensive self-standing hotspot device or a dongle--which is basically a very little modem with the ability to connect to wireless or mobile broadband.

Buy an inexpensive unlimited Data Plan for your hotspot

If you don’t have an unlimited amount of data, use your hotspot sparely. Laptops can be very tricky as they tend to use three times more data when browsing the internet.

Consider getting a cellphone plan with unlimited data if you’re planning to use it as a hotspot.  Cell phone providers such as T-Mobile offer senior plans with unlimited data for about $50 a month.

Find a spot with free public Wi Fi

Many restaurants encourage patrons to use their internet, as long as you’re paying for a cup of coffee.

Take your laptop to a Panera, Starbucks or MacDonald’s which provides free Wi-Fi.  Here is a list of restaurants ranked by the best free Wi-Fi that they provide.

Here is a list by state of all kinds of facilities, including restaurants, libraries and other places that offer free Wi-Fi.

Go to the Library

Before the pandemic, libraries provided a vital public service by making internet connected computers available to anyone. Lockdowns meant closed libraries.  Seniors were disproportionately affected since so many of us depended on local libraries for computer access.

Libraries are now opening back up with many offering computer use by appointment.  Call your local library to see what their availability is.

Share with a neighbor

If you live close to your neighbors, try to make an arrangement to share Wi-Fi.    You may both be able to save.

Look Into free (or low cost) Internet service

During the pandemic, a number of providers started providing free or low cost internet to low-income families.   Plug your zip code in on this site to see what’s available in your area.

Sign up for Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for $9.95 a month.

Don’t buy into the demeaning fiction that we seniors are too old and rigid to figure out how to use technology. We are perfectly capable of being computer savvy, as long as we have equal access to the internet.

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