3G wireless networks are scheduled to shut down next year, which will prevent older cell phones that utilize these networks from making or receiving calls or using data services. In addition to cell phones, other connected devices such as certain medical devices, alert systems, and security systems that use 3G network services will be impacted.
Although most people have devices on 4G or 5G networks, the shutdown will likely disproportionately impact older adults and low-income individuals, who may be using older phones, life alert systems, and other devices still on 3G. Connectivity is critically important in this time when people are utilizing telehealth services and connecting with the courts and service providers remotely.
Advocates can take steps to help people prepare for the 3G network shutdown:
- Share information in your community and with your clients on the upcoming shutdown. Some people may not be aware of the upcoming change, and others may not have taken steps to replace items if they were avoiding contact with technicians and service providers during the pandemic. Each mobile carrier has different dates for the planned shutdown, with AT&T scheduled as early as February 2022. The Federal Communications Commission has a consumer guide with more details.
- Help clients identify potential devices that may be impacted. Lifeline, a program used by many older adults, utilizes major service providers like AT&T and T-Mobile, which are included in the shutdown. iPhones older than the iPhone 6 will no longer work for calls and data. Medical alert devices, watches, and home security systems that utilize 3G may also be impacted. Advocates can assist by helping individuals log into their accounts to check whether they use 3G. Consumers can also contact the individual carriers and reach out to product companies to determine if their device will be affected.
- Connect people to new options for discounted devices if they need to replace them. For people with limited resources, this change could present challenges if they have to spend money on new products. Some carriers are offering free or discounted replacement phones. Older adults and low-income individuals may qualify for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which could help them get discounted, updated devices. The local Area Agency on Aging may have a program for device distribution, and many libraries have technology lending programs, which could help keep people connected.
Advocates play an important role in outreach and education, particularly to communities who may be most impacted by this change, including older adults of color, those living in rural areas, and other marginalized groups.