Smartphone-only Internet users increase: Here’s why that matters
42 percent of cord-cutters don’t even subscribe to home broadband.
Eighty percent of U.S. adults had Internet access this year, whether through a smartphone or a home Internet connection, up from 78 percent two years ago, according to the survey published Monday by the Pew Research Center. The Internet is supposed to open hitherto undiscovered opportunities for individual achievement, but for those in a tight spot, inadequate Internet access could become just one more obstacle to finding a job.
As recently examined by Blouin News, the United States is experiencing lags in internet adoption, especially with lower-income households falling behind in terms of home broadband rates.At 67% of Americans, home broadband adoption in 2015 is down slightly from 70% in 2013, while those who say they are smartphone-only for broadband has increased to 13% from 8% in 2013, particularly among African Americans and those with relatively low household incomes. That plateau in home broadband use comes as the Obama administration has pushed for greater broadband access and criticized the lack of competition among home Internet providers.
In fact, two thirds of the respondents said that not having a home high-speed connection would be a major disadvantage to getting a job, health information or other “key” info, up from 56% who said that in a 2010 survey. That’s not a big change, but it could signal the beginning of a bigger shift, especially in conjunction with an increase in the number of smartphone-only adults from 8 percent in 2013 to 13 percent. Buried in those results, however, is one statistic that sheds some important new light on the future of television: A huge share of cord-cutters don’t even have home broadband. In other parts of the world that have historically had less-developed infrastructure, struggled to implement widespread broadband systems, or just taken longer to get on the internet train, mobile was the first access point for many users. (Especially in markets where PCs are out of reasonable price range for the layperson, users gravitate toward cheaper mobile devices.) While 13% isn’t a huge percentage of users, the 5% jump over two years is notable, as are the factors that may have caused the plateauing of household broadband.
Adoption also flatlined five years ago before picking up again, which he said likely had to with economic difficulties in the aftermath of the recession. Does this reveal a new handicap for those from low-income backgrounds who need a job to move up, or are tech-dependent Americans just alarmed by the prospect of doing anything without the Internet? And Pew points out a big disadvantage for smartphone-only users, despite their mobility: users will run up against data-cap limits, unless they are always using public, free wi-fi. While most prefer their smartphones for connecting with friends and family among other tasks, professional ones are deemed more appropriate and easier via larger-screen devices such as PCs.
Still, these findings also highlight how far mobile technology has come; it is advanced enough so that some users see it as a decent substitution for at-home broadband. And, if anything, the research underscores the problems the U.S. has in not only reaching more people with internet access, but also in reevaluating the cost of the web for the general user. The Pew report drew on a September 2013 survey of 6,020 U.S. adults and several polls conducted in spring, summer and fall of 2015 that included, in total, 6,687 adults. Those without Internet are disproportionately found among older Americans age 50 and up and are twice as likely to live in rural areas rather than urban or suburban places. So even if you’ve told Verizon you no longer want a TV+Internet bundle, you’re still paying for standalone broadband, which can be priced even higher than your original bundle.
They are less educated, as 33 percent of those who did not finish high school do not use Internet, compared to 9 percent who have some college and 4 percent with a college degree. Then on top of that, you have to pay individual subscription fees to services like HBO Now, CBS All Access and others on an a la carte basis so that you can get the channels you want. Both studies follow the expected trend that those with less money and education have less Internet access, and widespread Internet access is still too new to say whether this represents causation or just obvious correlation.
The new study, however, provides a more nuanced picture, showing that among the 85 percent of Americans who do use the Internet, not all access is created equal. Those who reported making anywhere from under $20,000 per year to $75,000 per year were consistent in how rapidly they’re dropping broadband, but the people who made the least money were far more likely to report more smartphone-only Internet connections in the past two years. All of a sudden you get rid of a bill of, say, $100 or more per month (this amount is fairly close to what my household pays for standalone Internet service here in Washington). The profound shift in how people go online coincides with a different kind of cord-cutting: Some 15 percent of American adults have ditched cable television and an additional 9 percent of them say they’ve never had it at all, many of them citing the availability of programming through online services like Netflix. The rest rely primarily on their cellular devices to stream shows and movies. “Those without pay TV — and cord-cutters especially — rely on a different mix… a mix that emphasizes smartphones over a home broadband subscription,” the report reads.
It offers subscription TV and home broadband — but if you want to surf Comcast Internet outside the home, you’re limited to its network of WiFi hotspots. Compare that to, say, AT&T, which operates a national cellular data network that lets you surf from the middle of the freeway, on a boat or various other random places. The fact that some Americans are forgoing home broadband entirely as part of the cord-cutting process poses a big problem for Comcast and others in its position. But with new offerings such as T-Mobile’s Binge On — which lets you stream as much Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Now as you want without drawing from your monthly data plan — cellular carriers are poised to take advantage of the trend toward mobile cord-cutting in a tremendous way.
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