More Americans Rely on Smartphones

  • Pew Research Center
WASHINGTON, DC — Three notable changes relating to digital access and digital divides are occurring in the realm of personal connectivity, according to new findings from Pew Research Center surveys.

1. Home Broadband Adoption Plateaus

First, home broadband adoption seems to have plateaued. It now stands at 67 percent of Americans, down slightly from 70 percent in 2013, a small but statistically significant difference which could represent a blip or might be a more prolonged reality. This change moves home broadband adoption to where it was in 2012. Several groups are shifting their home internet connectivity away from broadband and toward smartphones.

2. Increase in “Smartphone-only” Adults

Second, this downtick in home high-speed adoption has taken place at the same time there has been an increase in “smartphone-only” adults – those who own a smartphone that they can use to access the internet, but do not have traditional broadband service at home. Today smartphone adoption has reached parity with home broadband adoption (68% of Americans now report that they own a smartphone), and 13% of Americans are smartphone-only – up from 8 percent in 2013. Some of the most significant changes in these adoption patterns are taking place among African Americans, those with relatively low household incomes and those living in rural areas.

3. More Americans Cut Cords
Third, 15 percent of American adults report they have become cord cutters – meaning they have abandoned paid cable or satellite television service. Many of these cord cutters say that the availability of televised content from the internet and other sources is a factor in their move away from subscription television services.

The Smartphone-reliant Face Challenges

At one level, the picture in these new data can be viewed benignly by those who are concerned about connectivity and digital divides. Overall, “advanced internet access” – that is, those with either a smartphone or a home broadband subscription – has changed little since 2013. Some 80 percent of adults have either a smartphone or a home broadband subscription in 2015, compared with 78 percent who said this in 2013.

Still, the fact that more Americans have only a smartphone for online access at home has consequences for how people get information. Those who are “smartphone-dependent” for access do encounter distinct challenges. Previous Pew Research Center findings show that they are more likely than other users to run up against data-cap limits that often accompany smartphone service plans. They also more frequently have to cancel or suspend service due to financial constraints. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that those who use digital tools for job searches face challenges when it comes to key tasks such as filling out job applications and writing cover letters.

In general, when given a choice, people prefer to use their smartphone for getting in touch with family or friends but, for watching video, they prefer a device with a larger screen that uses a home broadband connection. At the same time, many smartphone-only users say that the reason they do not have broadband at home is because their smartphone lets them do all they need to do online, underscoring the device’s utility for those without a home high-speed subscription.

More People Say Home Broadband Access is Important
As these changes have unfolded, two other shifts underscore the tension between the potential benefits that digital technologies provide and the day-to-day financial constraints of many households. On one hand, Americans – both broadband users and those who do not have broadband – are increasingly likely to view home broadband as a key tool for accessing information that is important to their lives. But at the same time, the monthly cost of broadband service is now cited by a plurality of non-adopters as the most important reason for not having a home broadband subscription:

Cost is the major reason most people do not have broadband connections
Roughly two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans indicate that not having a home high-speed internet connection would be a major disadvantage to finding a job, getting health information or accessing other key information – up from 56 percent who said this in 2010.

Among non-broadband adopters, 33 percent cite the monthly cost of service as the main reason they lack broadband at home, with an additional 10 percent citing the cost of a computer as their main reason for not having broadband service.

These changes are related: Non-broadband adopters who view a lack of home service as a major disadvantage are also more likely to cite the monthly cost of broadband as the primary reason they do not subscribe. Price sensitivity, in other words, is greatest among those who are most likely to see the advantages of a home broadband subscription.


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