As More Americans Go Smartphone-Only, High-Speed Internet Becomes a Luxury

By Lewontin, Max | The Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

As More Americans Go Smartphone-Only, High-Speed Internet Becomes a Luxury


Lewontin, Max, The Christian Science Monitor


Americans are increasingly using a smartphone to go online, but that's coming at the expense of a home broadband connection, a change that's particularly pronounced among African Americans, rural residents, and low-income households, a new Pew Research Center survey finds.

Having access to high-speed Internet is often seen as a necessity for Americans as more aspects of daily life -- applying for a job, getting banking information, connecting with family and friends -- move online.

In September, the White House declared broadband Internet access to be a "core utility" like running water, electricity, and sewers, with Pew finding in its survey released on Wednesday that 15 percent of Americans still lack Internet access.

But in the last two years, home broadband use has decreased, from 70 percent in 2013 to 67 percent this year, as more Americans are increasingly depending exclusively on smartphones for Internet access, according to Pew.

Overall, the number of smartphone-only households has increased to 13 percent, up 5 percentage points from two years ago. The number of African Americans with a smartphone and no home broadband increasing by 9 percentage points, rural residents by 6 percentage points, and those with household incomes under $20,000 per year increased 8 percentage points.

While nearly 70 percent of Americans describe the lack of a home broadband connection as a "major disadvantage" to activities such as finding a job or accessing health information, 43 percent of those without broadband cite the cost of a broadband connection -- including the price of a computer -- as the reason they don't have access.

The survey comes in the midst of a contentious debate among federal regulators about new data plans from several large mobile companies that offer unlimited video streaming in a bid to attract customers, a practice some legal experts say may violate regulations on "net neutrality" enacted in February. The services, introduced by T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast over the past few months, led to increased scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission, which sent letters to the companies asking for more information about their services, though it stopped short of calling the effort an investigation.

The concern among some advocates of net neutrality, which bans Internet providers from blocking or favoring particular websites at the expense of others, is that services such as T-Mobile's Binge On could result in favoritism of particular video apps over others. …

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