One generation will help another close the remaining digital divide (Editorial)

Published: Apr 28, 2023

By The Republican Editorials

Even after a long state effort to bring high-speed internet to rural areas, access to this critical tool of modern life has remained out of reach for many.

Many who live in cities, as well as towns.

When people first heard the term “digital divide” in Massachusetts, it referred to people in small towns unable to sign up for internet access from cable companies. Private companies bypassed these prospective customers because of the high cost of reaching them.

Government stepped into the gap during the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker. After delays and false starts, the Legislature and governor eventually invested about $57 million to get high-speed service to 53 towns – in some cases through incentives paid to commercial companies, in others by grants to towns that wanted to build publicly owned networks. That job is nearly done.

That digital divide needed hardware. Utilities pounded 40,000 new poles into the ground. Crews laid 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable. In the end, 26,000 residences and businesses obtained long-denied internet access. Not having that access hurt. It hurt businesses, students and people in need of telehealth services. It depressed property values.

Today, the state, continuing a program shaped in the last months of the Baker administration, wants to close a different digital divide. This one needs soft skills and cash – and will get it, thanks to an infusion of federal money that dwarfs what was spent reaching people in rural areas.

This past week, economic development officials with the Healey administration came to Springfield to detail steps that will help people take advantage of resources available online, removing barriers to information and providing greater equity for all. We applaud this new chapter and encourage people to take advantage of new programs, training and, yes, devices and subsidies.

In Springfield, 54% of residents do not have a reliable internet connection, one study found.

That’s not just an inconvenience. “It is a civil right. It is a human right,” Frank Robinson, vice president for public health and community relations with Baystate Health Systems told a gathering at the Tech Foundry. Baystate will lead a program called Cyber Seniors, in which high school and college students coach senior citizens who haven’t the tech skills, or means, to get online.

As reporter Jim Kinney explained in a story this week, the state will pump $14 million into a variety of projects. The Digital Equity Partnerships Program will pull from a $50 million fund provided through federal pandemic relief.

In coming months, we will continue to highlight steps in this work. More than a dozen Springfield-area groups have lined up with Baystate to take part. They are doing important work.

Most people take for granted the ability to hop online and search. The new effort is needed and overdue.

Western Mass. group gets $5.1 million to address ‘digital divide’ in skills, devices and fiber coverage

Published: Apr 27, 2023

By Jim Kinney |

SPRINGFIELD – Starting next week, high school and college students will start helping senior citizens connect to the internet, taking advantage, perhaps for the first time, of the web’s wealth of life tools.

The step will start with four internet guides, but could expand to 60 as part of a broad state project to remove barriers to internet access.

“If we train 60 young people, we can reach 400 seniors,” said Frank Robinson, vice president of public health at Baystate Health. “This is an intergenerational exchange.”

Called Cyber Seniors, the pilot program begins May 6 at the Palmer Public Library. The training is one program of a new effort, led by Baystate Health Systems.

The Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, as it is known, will receive $5.1 million from the state’s Digital Equity Partnerships Program. Elders will be able, once trained, to avail themselves telehealth, online benefit applications, email and other internet programs that most people consider indispensible.

On Thursday, Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao visited Springfield to announce $14 million in grants aimed to close the state’s digital divide. She spoke at the Tech Foundry job skills training program.

The term digital divide once referred only to the lack of high-speed internet service in rural areas. But it now covers any skills gap that keeps people from accessing the technology, or any device gap or lack of computers or computer access.

The Digital Equity Partnerships Program was launched in September 2022 with a $50 million fund to narrow the digital divide in the state. According to a news release, the program works with partners on six program areas to expand connectivity options.

The money comes from the state’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, COVID recovery legislation of 2021.

“Broadband access is part of the puzzle. But only part of the puzzle. Having fiber on your street is just part of the battle,” said Michael Baldino, director and general counsel for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.

The rest of that puzzle lies in missing skills and tech devices.

The state has made significant progress bringing broadband into underserved areas, Baldino said. Back in 2016 there were 44 towns – mostly in western and central Massachusetts — without access to high-speed internet. Now, projects are completed in 37 of the 44 and are underway in the remaining municipalities.

In Springfield, despite years of effort, 54% of the city’s residents are without reliable internet connection, said Roger W. Crandall, chairman, president and CEO of MassMutual and co-chair of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership’s Innovation Committee.

Baystate Health is involved, Robinson said, because internet access is connected with a person’s health and well-being. No internet means no telemedicine, no online appointment scheduling and less access to education.

“It is a civil right,” Robinson said. “It is a human right.”

The projects fall into broad categories. Participating organizations will establish and administer projects in one or more of the following program areas:

  • Digital Literacy Initiative – $2,299,235 for digital literacy training programs.
  • Connectivity Initiative for Economic Hardship – $689,313 for broadband connectivity to vulnerable populations through the provision of Wi-Fi cellular hot spots.
  • Public Space Internet Modernization Initiative – $813,221 for improvements to inadequate broadband infrastructure and digital use in public spaces and increase daily use and services.
  • Outreach and Enrollment – $1,347,693 for breaking down barriers to broadband adoption. This includes increasing the number of western Massachusetts residents participating in the Digital Equity Partnership Initiative programs and the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program. This outreach will involve in-person workshops, call center phone banking, door-to-door outreach, online or printed communications and public service announcements.

Breezeline Provides Digital Training to Empower Older Adults in South Florida

Breezeline partners with Cyber Seniors for onsite technology training

April 25, 2023 11:29 ET | Source: Breezeline

MIAMI, April 25, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Breezeline, the nation’s eighth-largest cable operator, hosted a digital literacy seminar to empower older adults in South Florida with the knowledge and skills to effectively navigate the digital world.

The digital literacy learning event was held April 20 at Sunrise Lakes III, a 55+ active senior community in Sunrise, Florida. Breezeline held the event in partnership with Cyber-Seniors, a non-profit that provides tech-training and digital mentors to seniors. The interactive seminar covered topics such as tech and internet basics, helpful aging, cybersecurity, telemedicine, and online banking.

“Digital skills are essential in today’s world. That is why Cyber-Seniors is proud to provide technology training that keeps older populations socially connected and engaged,” said Brenda Rusnak, co-founder and President of Cyber-Seniors. 

To further enhance the online experience, Breezeline also provided attendees with blue light glasses that prevent eye strain while looking at screens. 

This event is one of several steps Breezeline is taking to foster digital literacy and the responsible use of technology in its communities. Earlier this year, Breezeline sponsored the South Florida non-profit CodeArt’s annual festival and coding competition, aimed to inspire girls in computer science. 

“We recognize the great benefits online connectivity provides and are mindful of the responsibility to promote its right and safe use, while expanding access to connectivity in this digital age,” said Andrew Walton, a spokesperson for Breezeline.

Breezeline is committed each year to donating at least one percent of its pre-tax profits to community-based support. In its last fiscal year, Breezeline contributed more than $5 million in support of community initiatives.


Cogeco US, operating as Breezeline, a subsidiary of Cogeco Communications Inc. (TSX: CCA), is the eighth-largest cable operator in the United States. The company provides its residential and business customers with Internet, TV and Voice services in 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Cogeco Communications Inc. also operates in Québec and Ontario, in Canada, under the Cogeco Connexion name. Cogeco Inc.’s subsidiary, Cogeco Media, owns and operates 21 radio stations as well as a news agency serving audiences primarily in the province of Québec.


Breezeline Launches Community Impact Program Promoting Digital Literacy and Responsible Use of Technology

Program also supports online safety and STEM initiatives for young women

June 15, 2022 09:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time

QUINCY, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Breezeline, the nation’s eighth-largest cable operator, is pleased to announce a series of online community education initiatives designed to foster digital literacy and equity while supporting online safety, a healthy tech-life balance, as well as promoting technology careers for young people.

Recognizing the great benefits that internet connectivity provides, but also mindful that not all members of the community currently share in its benefits equally, and seeking to foster the responsible use of technology, Breezeline is supporting more than a half-dozen non-profit organizations to promote these objectives in its communities. These include:

  • Digital Literacy for Seniors: Breezeline has partnered with Cyber-Seniors to create free, educational webinars teaching digital literacy basics for senior citizens. Cyber Seniors also provides free, live, one-on-one sessions to help device users become more tech savvy.
  • Tech Life Balance: Breezeline has partnered with The Digital Wellness Lab (DWL), which is composed of medical doctors, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and research scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital who are working to understand and promote wellness in the digital age. With DWL, Breezeline will present short videos, webinars, and social media content to help parents understand the impact of media on their children and the practical steps they can take to mitigate its effects.
  • Cyber-Bullying Prevention: Breezeline has partnered with Pacer Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center to create cyberbullying prevention resources to distribute to schools and families during National Bullying Prevention Month in October and throughout the year.
  • Online Safety: Breezeline has partnered with CyberSecurity Non-Profit (CSNP) to create short videos, blogs, and social posts to inform and educate the public on ways to protect against cybercrime and to promote online safety.
  • STEM for Girls: Breezeline is supporting Code/Art’s annual coding festival and national coding competition, as well as regional coding clubs across the U.S. Code/Art is focused on closing the gender gap in technology by creating coding programs for girls in grades 3-12, inspiring girls to pursue computer science, and helping to change society’s view of what a coder looks like.
  • Promoting Tech Careers: The Interactive Case Competition challenges teams of graduate business students to solve real-life case studies pertaining to the cable industry. As the lead sponsor in the spring fall competitions, Breezeline senior leaders serve as judges and mentors, while sponsorship dollars go to the winning student teams as prize money to support their education. More than 40 percent of students go on to pursue tech careers.

“Breezeline is committed to using advanced technology to connect homes, education, health care, businesses and communities to everything that is important to them,” said Frank van der Post, President of Breezeline. “We know the tremendous benefits of online connectivity, but with this comes the responsibility to promote its right and safe use, while ensuring that all segments of our communities have access to connectivity in this digital age.”

Breezeline is committed each year to donating at least 1 percent of its pre-tax profits to community-based support. In its last fiscal year, Breezeline contributed more than $5 million in its support of community initiatives.


Cogeco US, operating as Breezeline, a subsidiary of Cogeco Communications Inc. (TSX: CCA), is the eighth-largest cable operator in the United States. The company provides its residential and business customers with Internet, TV and Voice services in 12 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Cogeco Communications Inc. also operates in Québec and Ontario, in Canada, under the Cogeco Connexion name. Cogeco Inc.’s subsidiary, Cogeco Media, owns and operates 21 radio stations as well as a news agency serving audiences primarily in the province of Québec.


Katherine McCoid 

Cyber-Seniors keeps Niagara seniors connected

Intergenerational volunteer-based organization offers seniors toll free number for technology training and support

By Victoria Nicolaou staff reporter Fri., Jan. 28, 2022

Koby Vanyo first heard about Cyber Seniors at a conference she attended a few years ago.

Founded in 2015, the non-profit organization sounded interesting and beneficial, but St. Catharines didn’t have the finances available to fund a program dedicated to providing free technology support and training for senior citizens.

And more than that, Vanyo said there wasn’t the need.

Fast-forward a handful of years, add in a worldwide pandemic, and the demand for the program has drastically changed.

Last fall, Vanyo, programs supervisor for St. Catharines, said the city received a grant which enabled them to connect with Cyber-Seniors. In addition to the technology support the program provides, the funding allowed for the development of Niagara-focused virtual programming.

The organization offers technology training using a volunteer-based model, with young people offering lessons and learning activities to keep seniors socially connected and engaged.

Anyone experiencing technology troubles or requiring assistance can call Cyber Seniors toll free number and be connected with the necessary help.

“They have trained volunteers on the other end of the line who can walk you through setting up (a new cell phone) and getting connected to the internet and pointing you in the right direction,” said Vanyo.

Even those who are relatively well-versed in technology have found it beneficial. Vanyo said she has guided her 74-year-old mother – who can “do most things” when it comes to technology – to the toll free line and the service has been “a lifesaver.” “She loves talking to them and they walk her through her problems and fix it every time,” she said.

Cyber-Seniors takes care of all of the vetting and the training of all volunteers, including using students from Niagara College and Brock University to help locally.

With the grant, Vanyo said the Niagara program – called Cyber-Seniors: Connecting Generations – has created localized content, in addition to the virtual programming already offered, and helped to build local connection.

Anny Salcedo, training supervisor for the Niagara program, said local webinars have included presentations on how to use the Niagara Region Waste and NRT OnDemand apps, and COVID-19 related presentations to help find booster shot locations for seniors and offered assistance with printing or downloading enhanced vaccine receipt.

It also has a partnership with Niagara Folks Arts Centre, and hosts seminars on topics to help create awareness, such mental health and homelessness.

In the coming weeks, Salcedo said they have events focused on the history of Niagara and Pickleball.

“With the restrictions of COVID, it has been very challenging for the seniors to actually stay connected or active even, so this kind of give an opportunity for them to socialize with other people across their region,” she said.

The average attendance is anywhere from 10 to 20 people, depending on the webinar itself. Salcedo said it can be tough and “complicated sometimes” for seniors to get accustomed to going virtual.

“We try to encourage them, remind them that they are not alone, that they can count on us,” she said.

Senior centres in St. Catharines were limited in what it could offer membership when the pandemic first took hold, and Vanyo said outside a monthly newsletter and a bi-monthly phone call, they didn’t have any virtual programming available.

So now, with Cyber-Seniors as well as Senior Centre Without Walls – telephone-based program for seniors – “we can reach a wider audience” said Vanyo.

The program is just in its infancy stages in Niagara but they’ve had “some good uptake” so far and are looking to spread the word and grow.

“More and more people are learning about it, more and more people are giving it a try,” she said, especially as the country continues to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s been a very interesting offering that we can give to people and it’s been successful.”

The Cyber-Seniors toll free number, 1-844-217-3057, is free to the public. More information on the Connecting Generations can be found on its website:

To join Seniors Without Walls participants can call 905 688 5600 ext.1554.

Cyber-Seniors Launches New Spanish Tech Sessions

Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, Cyber-Seniors is now proud to be able to offer weekly tech sessions and one-on-one help in Spanish! Visit our website to sign up, or sign up for the Spanish-speaking senior in your life!

Cyber-Seniors is Participating in the Consumer Electronics Show

Cyber-Seniors is excited to be participating in the 2021 All-Virtual Consumer Electronics Show! Ahead of the conference, Cyber-Seniors Managing Director Brenda Rusnak gave this interview with CTA Foundation CEO Steve Ewell, on the importance of intergenerational technology programming and how Cyber-Seniors is making a difference during these difficult times.

Cyber-Seniors | HundrED Spotlight 2019

Cyber-Seniors trains students to become technology mentors for older adults and allows them to receive practical experience while earning service hours. Upon completion, students are awarded a completion certificate and become eligible for awards and prizes. Through this experience, students develop important job skills that enhance opportunities for future employment.

HundrED seeks and shares inspiring innovations in K12 education. The world is changing fast, and schools need to change as well. Impactful, scalable innovations are a way to make that change happen.

Cyber-Seniors: Making Miraculous Things Happen | GreatCall

Watch how older adults connect with teens at the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos to explore technology together and share their experiences. In association with GreatCall, the Cyber-Seniors program, held at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center, combines the wisdom of age with the energy of youth to make miraculous things happen.

Cyber-Seniors & Sienna Senior Living

Be inspired by the unforgettable journey of a group of seniors and high school students. What they’ve learned and experienced, changed their lives forever. Cyber-Seniors is a community partnership program, where students from the local area help Sienna Senior Living residents learn how to use new technology.