A Reminder to Government and Industry that Consumers Still Need Paper Options

By Jim Haigh, Keep Me Posted

Staying connected in the digital world relies more and more on having the latest and greatest devices at your disposal. Consumers who do not, or cannot afford to keep up with the most current technology, are increasingly finding themselves left as roadkill on the digital superhighway.

Phones, tablets, computers and other connected devices have shorter and shorter lifespans, and the factors conspiring to render them obsolete are numerous. The latest killer stalking millions of devices more than a few years old is the termination of 3G cellular networks, which is set to begin in January 2022.

One of the growing pains to get to faster, better 5G networks deployed nationwide involves the major carriers –  AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – decommissioning their older networks in order to repurpose critical spectrum. The sunsetting of 3G will start happening early in the new year, with each company operating on its own schedules, which will also impact smaller carriers that rely on their networks.

Just how many digital devices will be impacted? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which oversees the industry doesn’t collect this data, but advises that consumers with cellular connected technology “a few years old” and older contact their carriers to find out if their personal technology will stop working soon. Industry analysts estimate that upwards of 10 million phones will be fatally compromised, but the number of consumers whose digital communications are disrupted will likely be much higher.

“Other devices, such as certain medical devices, tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems, and other connected products may be using 3G network services,” the FCC advises. “And don’t forget about devices that use cellular connectivity as a back-up when a wired internet connection goes down.”

As is often the case with factors fueling the digital divide, rural geographies, older and economically disadvantaged demographics can expect to be disproportionately impacted by the 3G network phaseout and extinction of untold millions of different communications tools. All of which reminds once again that participation in digital communications should be voluntary, not mandatory. And any new scheme to transition from paper to electronic notice must be proactively opted into. Especially now, when the sender has no idea whether or which of their intended recipients will have their digital devices shut down by planned obsolescence.

Keep Me Posted urges government and corporations to wake up to the fact that disruptions to digital communications are increasingly commonplace. Whether sudden or predicted, critical notices can get lost. The majority of consumers want the option of paper communications, and in this instance many will need them. Inclusive communications for all consumers is vital to our society and economy. Now more than ever, consumers deserve the protection of default access to paper bills, statements, explanation of benefits, financial planning documents and other essential notices – free of charge. And those who can and want to access digital communications should be allowed to proactively opt in to them.

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