Net Neutrality rules were put in place to protect the Internet and those who use it. These directives prohibited Internet service providers from throttling internet speeds or blocking access to particular websites. Under these guidelines, Internet access was treated as a utility. This means everyone had equal access to services. The growth and freedom experienced through the Internet are largely due to the protections of net neutrality. Unfortunately, Net Neutrality has been repealed, and it is likely to have a significant negative impact on everyone. Many seniors, especially those living on a fixed income, will be affected. Even senior living communities will suffer some consequences. So, how exactly will the Net Neutrality repeal impact senior citizens?
Two Separate Paths
The most likely outcome of the repeal involves Internet service providers creating two distinct pathways to the Internet. In other words, there will be a “fast lane” and a “slow lane.” In order to access the web at reasonable speeds, individuals will need to pay more money to use the “fast lane.” Furthermore, companies who receive high amounts of traffic to their websites will pay additional “tolls” in the form of fees likely passed on to consumers. People who are unwilling or unable to pay will simply have to deal with slower Internet speeds. Some websites and services may even be completely blocked for users who cannot pay for service upgrades. This would clearly have a negative impact on low-income people, including seniors living on a fixed income. Internet access could be limited or even nonexistent for many people. Seniors use the web, just like younger people. They communicate with friends and family, pay bills, watch videos and acquire information. All the amazing things the Internet has to offer could be restricted unless one can afford to pay the extra fees. Currently, 20% of Americans cannot afford Internet service. This number is expected to increase substantially under the new Net Neutrality repeal, as discussed in The Guardian..
Most mobile plans already have data caps. Plan prices will likely increase, and consumers may need to pay extra in order to access certain websites and services via their portable devices. Some older adults are already struggling to pay for cell phone service. Increased pricing may force them out entirely or cause them to switch to a less reliable mobile carrier. This could be dangerous as seniors need to be able to make emergency calls and communicate with important contacts.
The Impact on Senior Living Communities
For communities to conduct business and provide quality services, operators will need to purchase “fast lane” Internet packages. The increased pricing will be an inconvenience, but most senior living communities can afford the additional cost. Specific websites or programs may require special subscriptions. In this case, communities may have to drop some features to stay within budget.
80% of Americans are in favor of keeping Net Neutrality regulations. It is impossible to predict the exact impact of the repeal. In the meantime, some government entities and public organizations are fighting to reinstate Net Neutrality rules. For now, anything is possible and the fate of the Internet is in the hands of the Internet service providers. We can only hope that they will wield their power with grace rather than greed.