The internet is interwoven with almost every aspect of how people live today. Whether we like it or not, not having internet access means being cut off from the rest of the world in more ways than you may think. Unfortunately, for some seniors, internet access is something they struggle with.
Between the high monthly costs of good internet coverage, the complexities of setup, and the fear of falling victim to scammers, getting connected can be difficult.
Here, we discuss the importance of internet access for seniors, what special considerations there are for seniors looking for an internet package, and the types of services out there to help make it more accessible and affordable for senior citizens to get online.
Why Is Internet Access Important for Seniors?
Before we get into the specifics of internet access plans and services for seniors and how they work, let us first talk about why they matter.
There is a common misconception that older people don’t use the internet, so tailoring services to serve their needs is a waste of resources. This is far from the truth. Sure, maybe a decade ago, the number of 65 and overs connecting to the internet was significantly lower than younger age brackets, but the gap has dramatically closed.
Nowadays, roughly 75% of over 65s use the internet. Almost two-thirds of them own a smartphone, and 45% are even on social media. It is clear that the older generation is very much part of the digital community, but their requirements and limitations may differ from the younger generations.
Other than the fact that they want it, why is it important for seniors to have affordable and accessible internet access?
It helps them stay connected with friends and relatives even when they are not close by.
Internet access helps avoid social isolation and loneliness.
They can access local services and stay involved with their community.
Like everyone, seniors can use the internet to learn, stimulate their brains, and stay informed.
Many senior home safety features use the internet to function.
Seniors enjoy a good movie or song as much as the next person, and the range of entertainment available online is perfect.
Growing older doesn’t mean you stop enjoying the basic benefits of the internet just like everyone else does, but it does create a whole new set of reasons why it is important to have it.
What Types of Internet Services are Available for Seniors?
Luckily, several companies and organizations have taken notice of the added struggles for elderly internet users. They have taken steps to provide better packages and plans that are affordable and come with the right support systems.
Here is an overview of the types of senior internet services available.
Standard internet providers with tailored seniors’ plans
Internet providers working with seniors’ organizations on special deals
We will go into more detail a little later about the programs in each category.
Things to Consider when Choosing a Senior’s Internet Plan
When searching for an internet plan for seniors, either for yourself or a family member, there are a few things to consider.
Speed and Bandwidth
Slow internet is very frustrating no matter what age you are. It is important to pick a package with enough bandwidth to handle all your online activities and the speed to keep things flowing.
If seniors have multiple devices and systems (alarms, hearing aids, medical alerts, TV, and more) connected and active, they need something that can support them all and still let them FaceTime with loved ones without buffering.
It is also essential to check the data usage cap before picking an internet plan. There are three considerations here:
You don’t want to run out of internet and be disconnected for days until a monthly plan renews.
There is no point in paying for unlimited data if you hardly use it.
It can be very expensive to pay per GB if you exceed a usage limit, so you need to know how your plan works and what the charges are.
In short, you want to get the balance right of having enough internet for everything you or your loved one needs but not overpaying for more data than necessary.
One of the considerations that is particularly important for seniors is the technical assistance and customer support available. Choosing a provider that is on hand to help with setup, connection issues, and questions for as long as they are a customer matters because it provides peace of mind.
Some customer service departments are friendlier than others and have more training on how to assist elderly clients over the phone. The last thing anyone wants is to be left struggling to get the internet working and feel uncomfortable asking for help.
Affordability is arguably the key concern when picking an internet package for seniors. Many pensioners have less spare money, so it can be more difficult to find a service that has everything they need but does not exceed the budget.
What Are the Key Cost and Affordability Considerations?
As cost is arguably the most important consideration, let’s discuss it more in detail. First, here is a list of the different aspects to think about.
Upfront costs: How much does the router cost, and are there any one-off joining fees?
Monthly charges: What will the person have to pay each month for their plan?
Additional charges: If the person exceeds their usage limits, will the internet cut off, or will they be charged a premium for the extra?
Hidden costs: Be sure to ask about all the possible charges to avoid nasty surprises.
It is hard to pinpoint a rough estimate of what an internet package will cost since the prices range from around $10 to over $100 monthly. Depending on a senior’s situation and post-retirement income, they may be able to afford a top-shelf internet plan- or they may require some additional help to pay for any access.
Shockingly, around 42% of the US over-65 population does not have access to at-home internet- relying solely on public networks, family, phone plans, or nothing. Veterans, low-income pensioners, and seniors with disabilities are amongst those most likely to struggle to pay for internet- but they are also the people who are eligible for support through various low-cost internet services for seniors.
Types of Affordable Internet Plans for Seniors
There is help out there for elderly citizens who can’t afford a decent internet plan on their own. The US Government backs two main programs that offer low-cost or even free internet programs for seniors. Many internet providers offer specialized plans designed to be affordable and accessible to older customers, and others work with government programs and offer discounts to those who are eligible.
Nonprofit organizations supporting low-income seniors also work in the internet space sometimes- so they are another possible option.
Here are some of the best types of internet programs for seniors that are affordable and supportive.
Government Internet Programs for Seniors
A low-income pensioner may be eligible for a free internet program for seniors, and the best place to find out is through one of the government-backed services. The Affordable Connectivity Program and Lifeline are provided by the US federal government to help more seniors connect to the internet through their phones and at home.
Although they are separate programs, they work together and have similar eligibility requirements. People accepted for one will also be eligible for the other. They can use both programs for optimal benefit.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
What Is the Affordable Connectivity Program?
The ACP is a federal subsidy program that contributes towards the cost of broadband internet for low-income households and seniors. It currently pays $30 towards monthly internet bills (except on Tribal land or areas that are considered high-cost, where the payment may increase to as much as $75).
It is a fairly new program- introduced after COVID-19 as a replacement for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. The EBB was created as a temporary measure to ensure households struggling with income during the lockdown could stay online. When the pandemic ended, the government saw the need for it to continue.
As it stands, those who are eligible receive a $30 discount on their bill. Most decent monthly internet programs cost more than that, but many providers are working with the government to offer discounts that mean there is nothing left to pay. It is the primary government internet program for seniors.
Who Is Eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program?
Eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program is primarily based on household income, so any senior living off a state pension is very likely to be accepted to receive this benefit. They may also qualify if they receive other government benefits, including veterans’ pensions, food stamps, Medicaid, FPHA, or Tribal benefits.
If you qualify for Lifeline, you are automatically eligible for ACP.
How Can People Apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program?
People can apply for ACP online through the getinternet.gov website or with their existing internet provider over the phone.
Pros and Cons of the ACP for Seniors
If you choose a partner provider and the right plan, you can get internet access completely free of charge.
You are not limited to a specific plan. You choose the one that suits you best and apply the discount afterward.
More than 20 internet companies provide free internet to anyone who qualifies for ACP.
ACP benefit includes a one-time $100 discount on a laptop, tablet, or computer.
You may still have to pay something towards your plan if you work with an internet provider that does not work with ACP discounts.
The $30 always applies, but some providers only apply the further ACP discount to certain plans.
If your income is over a certain amount and you don’t receive any other relevant benefits, you won’t be eligible.
Where Is the Affordable Connectivity Program Available?
The Affordable Connectivity Program is a federal benefit, so it is available nationwide. Some internet providers that work with the program to offer free internet may have limited coverage.
Lifeline Assistance Program
What Is the Lifeline Assistance Program?
Like ACP, the Lifeline Assistance Program is organized by the federal government to make internet access more affordable for those who need it. It is designed to offer internet discounts for seniors and other low-income households for their phones.
Most people use their phones as their primary source of contact and internet access, but paying for a monthly package that provides enough data, minutes, and texts to stay connected and do everything you need it to can be quite pricey.
Lifeline offers a discount of $9.25 per month for phone and internet services (or up to $34.25 for seniors living on Tribal land). People can apply for Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the support they receive.
Who Is Eligible for the Lifeline Assistance Program?
Anyone who qualifies for ACP is also eligible for the Lifeline benefit. Again, it comes down to household income or other state benefits received.
How Can People Apply for the Lifeline Assistance Program?
After establishing eligibility, people can apply for the Lifeline Assistance Program online through the getinternet.gov website, via their chosen phone and internet provider, or by mail. California, Oregon, and Texas have slightly different application processes, but the relevant information is available for those who need it on the Lifeline homepage.
Pros and Cons of Lifeline for Seniors
Lifeline can be used together with the Affordable Connectivity Program.
It is accepted by most leading phone companies.
The discount is enough to pay for a phone package with unlimited calls or a good amount of data via most providers.
You may have to change phone providers if your existing service does not accept Lifeline benefits.
The application rules are different in some states.
You can only apply once per household.
It applies to either phone or internet service- not both.
Where Is Lifeline Coverage Available?
Lifeline benefit applies to most states. California, Texas, and Oregon have other state phone benefits in place, so it works a little differently there.
Nonprofit Organizations with Senior Internet Offers
The government is not the only organization doing something to help make the internet more affordable for more people. Nonprofits have also taken notice of this important issue and are helping seniors get connected and stay connected for less.
EveryoneOn is a nonprofit organization that works with providers from across the country to bring low-cost internet offers to those who need them. They also work to provide computers and other internet devices to those who can’t afford to buy them alone.
The exact offers vary depending on the person’s location and when they search, but there is an excellent range of deals all year round.
Searches are first determined by ZIP code. Next, a series of tick boxes appear for the person to select the ones that apply to them. These are essentially all about income and other benefits received.
EveryoneOn makes it easier for people to find the best internet deals in their area with or without ACP- as well as finding cheap computer deals in local areas.
Standard Internet Providers with Special Deals for Seniors
Many providers offer cheap internet for seniors through senior discounts regardless of household income or benefits.
Providers in Partnership with Senior Organizations
More than 20 internet providers offer free plans to anyone who qualifies for ACP or Lifeline, and countless more provide cheap devices to help people stay connected. Some of the best offers include:
Supporting Seniors with Internet Safety and Digital Literacy
Getting seniors connected is one thing- but helping them feel safe and confident when using the internet is something else. While plenty of elderly internet users are tech-savvy, many more are not.
One of the best resources for anyone looking to improve their digital skills is GCFlearnfree.org- a community learning site that provides thousands of videos and lessons free of charge through a simple platform.
Senior Planet is another fantastic place for older individuals to take courses to improve their internet skills and confidence. It also provides free assistance and technical support for seniors trying to figure out how things work.
Technical assistance is also generally available from your internet provider as part of the package- but be sure to pick a service you can contact in a way you feel comfortable. Some are purely automated, while others have over-the-phone and in-person support.
Top Tips for Preventing Online Fraud or Theft for Seniors
Don’t respond to requests from family members claiming to need something until you confirm in person.
Never share passwords or private information with people asking for them online, even if they claim to be helping. Speak to your internet provider directly if you are unsure about the legitimacy of a service.
Keep your social media profiles private.
Use secure, obscure passwords that you can remember but are hard for others to guess.
There are many ways for seniors to access free or discounted internet services if they need them. Everyone should have access to the internet, and there are fantastic resources available for any seniors looking to become more involved in the digital world.