Cellphones, tablets, computers and other connected devices have shorter and shorter lifespans, and the factors that render them obsolete continue to mount. According to Keep Me Posted North America (Chicago, Illinois), an advocacy organization focused on consumer choice in essential communications, the latest ‘killer’ stalking millions of devices only a few years old is the termination of 3G cellular networks – which is set to begin in January of 2022. One of the growing pains to get to faster and better 5G networks deployed involves the major carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon) decommissioning their older networks. The end of 3G will start 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? Industry analysts estimate that in the U.S. alone, upwards of 10 million phones will be 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. Devices that use cellular connectivity as a back-up when a wired Internet connection goes down, will also be affected, according to the organization.
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 phase out. “All of which,” said Keep Me Posted, “reminds us once again that participation in digital communications should be voluntary, not mandatory. And any new scheme to transition from paper to electronic notices 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 this planned obsolescence.”
Keep Me Posted is therefore urging governments and corporations to wake up to the fact that disruptions to digital communications are increasingly commonplace. Whether sudden or predicted, important notices regarding these changes can get lost. “The majority of consumers want the option of paper communications, and in this instance many will need them,” said the organization. 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 – all free of charge. And those who can and want to access digital communications should be allowed to proactively opt in to them.”