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Elderly, underprivileged need Internet access

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Access to the Internet has become an essential facet to American modern life. It affects all avenues of day-to-day affairs, from applying for jobs to accessing health care information. It is a crucial component for the United States to continue its innovation and remain globally competitive. However, a growing number of older and underprivileged Americans are still cut-off from the Internet. It’s an issue which goes largely unreported and one which must be resolved urgently.

Last month, the Pew Research Center released a survey detailing that over 15 percent of adults in America still do not use the Internet. Unsurprisingly there’s a strong correlation between age, education and Internet usage in the survey. In an era when Americans are being forced to work longer in their later years, accessing the Internet for submitting resumes is essential. People who don’t are economically disenfranchised from a vast swathe of potential jobs. 44 percent of Americans aged 65 and older do not use the Internet.

The survey highlighted many of the reasons for Americans not going online, including usability, a lack of interest and insufficient understanding. However, a project in Philadelphia, a city in which 40 percent of residents lack access to the Internet, offers a model of how to connect the country.

The Free Library of Philadelphia Hot Spots program, initiated in 2012, aimed at addressing the widespread disconnect. Through local initiatives and free computer access, classes and training at all public libraries, the program provided Internet access to underprivileged neighborhoods. The vast majority of nonusers gained access to computers due to a small amount of investment in training and education.

The White House is in tune with the direction of affordable Internet access and technology education. ConnectED, an ambitious project by the Obama administration, seeks to ensure that 99 percent of American students will have high-speed Internet access by 2018 so America’s classrooms remain internationally competitive.

Thankfully, this latest initiative does not require congressional approval and can be rolled out immediately with the help of private sector investment. The White House must ensure that rural school and communities receive the greatest assistance, as they have a history of significantly lagging in technology.

In the digital age, access to high-speed Internet and appropriate information technology education is vital for the sustainability of the U.S. economy. The latest initiative from the White House is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure that America’s elder generations are given adequate training in an era when having basic IT skills are a prerequisite for securing the most basic of jobs. Staying connected is not a luxury anymore. It’s a basic necessity.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 16 print edition. Harry Brown is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]

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