Free, reliable internet connected demanded by seniors, disabled protesters who gathered at AT&T store

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67-year-old Maria Guadalupe Siordia-Ortiz is concerned about her future in the more technology-advanced and virtual world. The dynamics have changed with the pandemic and she was aware that one can miss out if he or she is not online.

The San Franciscan woman has witnessed how her older, and some disabled friends were detached to several things since the pandemic, especially on matters they deem important like access to doctors and social connections.

Given their limited sources, the majority of them are not able to get themselves a high-speed internet connection.

“These times caught us. For us, it was something so sudden,” she said. “The children are growing up with all this, but not us, and we feel kind of left out.”

Siordia-Ortiz joined her friends on a march on Monday as they demanded free access to reliable internet. She was among the 50 elderly and disabled people who occupied the AT&T store at 1 Powell St. in San Francisco.

The protest was organized by San Francisco-based Senior and Disability Action who argued that the demand for high-speed internet access revolved around more than just “digital gatekeeping” in the increasingly online world.

Internet access became a mode of survival these days, protesters stressed, citing how several things have moved online.

“We need to be connected. We need to have the opportunity, the chance to be part of this world,” Siordia-Ortiz said. She was not able to get a telemedicine schedule due to a weak internet connection.

“AT&T, have some respect. We can’t afford the internet,” the protesters chanted as they marched into the AT&T store.

They want at least 200 Mbps reliable internet access for free for older, disabled and low income people in the Bay Area.

Organizers said they went to AT&T considering that it is a commonly used internet service provider in the Bay Area. But none from AT&T has spoken to the protesters, Jessica Lehman, an organizer with Senior and Disability Action, said.

In their defense, AT&T’s director of corporate communications Jim Kimberly said that they were not informed about the protest. The internet service provider said it gave $100, 000 in 2020 to Give2SF “in support of seniors and adults with disabilities”. It also helped in digital literacy training for seniors, San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“We support the right to assemble and protest on public property and understand the importance of reliable internet access, especially for senior and disabled communities,” AT&T said in a statement. “We encourage customers to stay connected and explore low-cost home internet service options through Access from AT&T and the Emergency Broadband Benefit.”