Smartphones for Loan: 100 iPhones to Cambridge Senior Centers

We had an idea for the Cambridge Participatory Budgeting project, and submitted it here. Check it out!

Our proposal below:

We live in a highly technological society, and cell phone companies are leaving our most valuable Cambridge residents behind. Seniors deserve to have the same technology that has become commonplace to the rest of us. They are instead being treated like second-class citizens.

Many of them either do not have cell phones or are issued Lifeline phones, which are allocated based on income and program participation. While theoretically this federal program is well-intentioned, in practice it causes the same problems it is trying to solve while engendering feelings of helplessness and stupidity. Its phones are bloated with ads and selling real-time location data, violating users’ privacy. If a confused user wanted to understand how to use their Lifeline phone, they would need to call an overseas call center, wait for over an hour, know exactly what questions to ask the disembodied voice on the line, and hope that the person understands what they are asking.

Many of the seniors with whom we have worked own Lifeline phones. They report feeling stupid at the end of customer service calls, having been scolded and dismissed for not understanding their foreign and confusing devices. Cambridge seniors deserve so much better. They deserve a helpful person who will sit with them and let them drive, so they can learn for themselves how to access the information to which they are entitled.

For this reason, we want to supply the two Cambridge senior centers with 100 new smartphones, iPhone 7’s, that come with a lifetime of free phone service and in-person customer support. We are The Community Phone Company, the only cell phone company based out of the Greater Boston Area. Last year, one of our grandmothers walked into a major cell phone provider’s store with an email problem and walked out having purchased a new iPhone X and no deeper understanding of her email. We realized she deserved better, so we started the first local cell phone company, dedicated to empowering Boston community members by providing affordable cell phone coverage and unmatched, in-person customer support.

Just as people can check out laptops from many public libraries, with this program Cambridge seniors will be able to borrow smartphones for their personal use.
These new devices will allow these Cambridge seniors to access state services that are currently available, but out of reach, like our tech-help events. Our representatives will continue to put on technology events at these two senior centers to teach seniors new to smartphones, enabling more seniors to use these newly available devices. Seniors who have already used these phones, or who have independent experience with smartphones, will be encouraged to attend so they can share their knowledge with their peers. These events and available devices will drive more traffic to the senior centers, increasing access to important city programs.

The phones will have a “find me” feature in case any go missing. When seniors return the phones, the content will be wiped clean, ensuring the seniors’ privacy.
Finally we will incorporate scam prevention software into their new devices, so the seniors can feel secure using the technology. Phone, email, and internet scams directly target seniors, exploiting their kindness and newness to technology. We will help these seniors understand how to identify scams and provide them with software that will help prevent scams in the first place.

Seniors need and deserve the internet and smartphones, just as we all do. It can help keep them involved in their communities, help them feel less isolated by connecting them with their loved ones, brighten their day with games, and allow them to teach others what they have learned, connecting them even more with their peers. These seniors, active in their seniors centers, contribute so much to the City. Let us repay them with high functioning phones and kind, local service providers dedicated to making them feel heard. This is an opportunity for the City of Cambridge to lead the nation in showing how much it values its seniors staying connected.