The smartphone has quickly become a utility device in North America with the majority of people owning and using one. This change in ownership of personal electronics is changing how Americans access and use the Internet. A report issued by the US Census Bureau’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey includes data collected last summer to show some of these changes. The report shows that despite some carriers capping data allowances and levying high overuse charges, mobile networks are competing more directly with wired Internet connections. In the summer of 2015, 75% of Americans used a household high speed, wired, Wi-Fi service. This data encompasses cable, DSL and fiber-optic Broadband connection types. However, in the summer of 2013 this figure was at 82%, showing a material drop in the number of homes with a high speed Internet connection. Over the same period, the number of homes relying on just a mobile Internet connection doubled from 10% to 20%.
Under these headline figures, the survey notes that there is a difference between the income level of a particular household and the reliance on mobile data. 29% of households with income below $25,000 only use the carrier’s mobile network for Internet use and this figure dropped to 15% for those households with incomes of $100,000 or more. This appears to show that affordability remains a factor for wired Internet connections, but that more and more customers are finding their mobile networks capable of serving their Internet needs. However, despite this growth in reliance on the mobile networks, over one quarter of American households still do not use an Internet service from home.
The report also covered the range of devices used by Americans to go online: the universal smartphone now handles 53% of Internet traffic compared with 45% in 2013. Despite worries over sales, the tablet saw an increase in Internet use and smart televisions and TV-connected devices accounted for 27% of Internet traffic, up from 18% in 2013. Fewer and fewer Americans are using desktop computers for their Internet use and only around 1% of Americans use a wearable device in 2015. Within this data, it is interesting to note that 57% of individuals used two Internet-connected devices and 37% used three as part of their daily routine.
Of course, the implications of these changes in Internet-use habit are potentially very important for government officials trying to write policy designed to provide Internet access to any Americans who so desires it. Mobile networks offer several advantages over fixed line – the cost of infrastructure is typically significantly less although speeds and reliability is also less robust than a fixed line connection. The survey appears to be making the point that governments should not be Americans wanting to get online to make full use the Internet via a laptop and dongle.