Broadband for Seniors – the sequel

The government and NEC have unveiled a new iteration of the Broadband for Seniors website to reflect the new range of web based services and technologies but consumer group says more support is needed.

Above: Senator Doug Cameron at the launch of the new Broadband for Seniors website on Tuesday this week.

By Keryn Curtis

The website for the Australian Government’s Broadband for Seniors program has undergone a revamp and relaunch to reflect progress and development in the understanding of the web, cloud computing and collaboration technologies.

New South Wales Senator, Doug Cameron, unveiled the newly-designed platform for senior Australians, together with the government’s technology partner, NEC Australia, at the Australian Senior Computer Clubs Association conference in Sydney this week.

The Broadband for Seniors program was established in 2008, initially to assist people over the age of 50 who had minimal experience with personal computers, the web, desktop software and web applications, by introducing them to Gmail, Internet Explorer and document processors. 

Since then, the Broadband for Seniors program has helped participants move beyond these basics, and that progress is reflected in the new website and companion course material, which now emphasises collaboration, communication and social inclusion. 

The new Broadband for Seniors website contains links to kiosk hosts and volunteer tutors, and ‘how to’ guides covering topics such as internet content filtering, emailing videos and pictures, memory card readers, shrinking pictures for emails, USB memory sticks as well as internet training workbooks covering Skype, online radio, Facebook and YouTube.

Above: NEC Australia’s group manager, health and aged care solutions, David Cooke, speaking at the launch.

NEC Australia’s group manager, health and aged care solutions, David Cooke, said one Broadband for Seniors course currently scheduled aims to simplify cloud computing and the sharing of files by teaching participants how to use the storage platform, Dropbox. 

“Another course takes seniors beyond desktop word processing to Google Docs, emphasising the potential for collaboration, content creation and knowledge sharing. 

“This program positions Australia well in a global sense, with many countries focused on digital inclusion policies to avoid the ‘digital divide,’ in this case one based on age,” said Mr Cooke.

“It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of usage by kiosk users, knowing that this is just the beginning, with new technologies for both health care and social interaction just around the corner,” he said.

Launched in 2008, the Broadband for Seniors program has established 2000 internet kiosks across Australia providing older Australians with free access to computers and the internet, as well as training in information technology skills to over 250,000 seniors. 

Mr Cooke said that the kiosks, which are located in places that seniors regularly visit or that provide existing services to older Australians, provide particpants with the tools to engage with web-based services, ranging from social media, smartphones and tablets, and photo-sharing services such as Flickr. 

“The education also offers seniors important strategies to manage security, identity and information-sharing risks, including threats posed by malware, which do not discriminate between young and old computer users.” 

A good start but more needed

The chief executive of the consumer group, National Seniors, Michael O’Neill, says his organisation welcomes the new website but says more needs to be done to help seniors actually take their very first step into cyber space.

“While this website is a useful resource, it is targeted at those already online who probably don’t need as much help,” he said. 

“What we need are programs for those older Australians who are either overwhelmed by the technology or have safety concerns and therefore won’t touch a computer,” said Mr O’Neill.

“The fastest rate of internet usage growth is occurring among older adults, with 71 per cent of the 55-64 age group accessing the internet in 2010-2011. However for those over 65 years of age, the level of participation or access is only 37 per cent.

“This shows many older people are still reluctant to go online,” he said. 

“Older Australians need to have confidence in the technology so they can feel secure about going online.”

According to National Seniors research, the top three barriers to older Australians going online are: lack of knowledge and skills (76 per cent); confusion around the technology (74 per cent); and concerns about security and viruses (64 per cent). 

“Seniors have also indicated that they are either unable to afford online training programs; or unaware of publically available computer training programs and resources, such as the government-sponsored kiosks which are free of charge.”

The website revamp is part of the Australian Government’s $25.4 million commitment to the Broadband for Seniors program. 

About Broadband for Seniors

Since its 2008 launch, the Broadband for Seniors program has established 2000 internet kiosks across Australia providing older Australians with free access to computers and the internet, as well as training in information technology skills.  Broadband for Seniors kiosks are located in places that seniors regularly visit or that provide existing services to older Australians such as community centres, retirement villages, nursing facilities, libraries and community clubs.  The aim is to provide a supportive and friendly environment for anyone over the age of 50 to learn how to use computers, the internet, email and other web based activities.

NEC Australia manages Broadband for Seniors on behalf of the Government, with their consortium partners Adult Learning Australia, peak body for seniors and technology, Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association and the University of the Third Age Online. NEC Australia is currently working towards transitioning Broadband for Seniors kiosks to the National Broadband Network (NBN) in conjunction with the local fibre-network rollout where practical.

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