I have worked with a number of carriers who largely avoid building fiber or any new facilities to neighborhoods that have a larger than average share of senior households. And I think perhaps we are getting to a point in time where that is no longer the best strategy.
Pew Research Center just released a poll showing the change over time of the use of social media by various age groups. They have been asking this question for a number of years. Their polls show that back in 2006 around 40% of people under 29 used social media but barely anybody else. But over the years the usage has grown for each age group. As one would still expect, around 90% of those under 29 now use social media, but the percentage for those over 65 has grown to 35% and is growing quickly.
You don’t have to go back very many years to see a different story. As recently as 2012 only 20% of those over 65 used social media and in 2010 it was only 10%. But the older demographic is quickly catching up to those between 50 and 64, where, even now, only 50% use social media.
This survey didn’t give any reasons why the use of social media is growing so fast. But one easy explanation is that as the population ages, the younger groups of people become the next older group. I just read recently that there are now more millennials in the country than baby boomers. The baby boomers, along with everyone else, are aging and the first boomers are now 69.
Not all of my clients shy away from seniors. I have a few clients that for years have held training sessions to help seniors get over their fear of computers, and this has paid off. They tell me that once a senior gets on the Internet that they are some of their best customers. They pay on time and they are loyal.
I happen to live in a community in Florida with a lot of seniors who love the Florida sun in the winter. I can tell you that, at least around here, the community itself is drawing seniors onto the Internet. It’s not unusual for community centers and other centers of senior of activity to prefer to communicate via the web. It’s also not unusual around here for doctors to want to do everything on the web. So people who might have had no other reason to get onto the Internet are getting drawn in by daily life.
I don’t think anybody should expect that seniors are going to pony up a high price for the fastest Internet connections, and so I would imagine that Google doesn’t do as well in this segment of the population as they probably do with families with kids at home. But that doesn’t mean that seniors want the slowest product either. My mother-in-law, who lives in Texas, had a 40 Mbps cable modem and was pleased last year when Time Warner increased her speed to 75 Mbps due to competition with Google.
We are also on the verge of a time when seniors will become very demanding broadband customers. There are over 100 tech companies reported to be looking at products that can help seniors stay in their homes longer. All of these products rely on video cameras and other monitors that are going to make seniors care about bandwidth. If buying bigger bandwidth can keep somebody in their home for an extra decade you are going to see the elderly shelling out for broadband and demanding that it is fast enough to satisfy their needs.
I still think the idea of carriers finding ways to reach out to senior can pay dividends. I have a very large extended family and every year I see a few more of my older cousins and relatives pop up on Facebook. And I am sad to report that it’s not just kids who take selfies! I think the older generation in my family has a lot more fun with the Internet these days than the kids.