The Decline Of Home Broadband Internet Adoption


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Willie E Brake

Broadband internet adoption in the United States has experienced a modest decline in recent years, falling from 70% in 2013 to 67% in 2015 according to figures that compare a recent survey sample of 6,010 adults. These changes in home broadband internet adoption are concentrated among lower- to middle-income households, rural households and African Americans. There has also been a drop in home broadband internet adoption among parents of children under the age of 18.

It has been documented that smartphones have rapidly become a staple for many Americans. A July 2015 survey shows that 68% of Americans now have a smartphone, an increase from 55% two years ago. This increase in smartphone adoption has compensated for the downturn in home broadband internet adoption in two ways:

More Americans are more likely to have both means of online access than was the case two years ago. As of July 2015, 55% of adults reported having both a smartphone and a home broadband internet subscription, up from 47% in 2013.

More Americans are “smartphone-only” in 2015 than was the case in 2013. Today 13% of adults rely on their smartphone for online access at home, compared with 8% in 2013.

The number of Americans who depend on a smartphone for home internet connectivity is growing. The consequence is that the “advanced internet access” picture, which we define as having either a smartphone or a home broadband internet subscription, has changed little between 2013 and 2015. Today 80% of American adults have either a smartphone or a home broadband internet connection, a small change from 2013, when 78% had one of these two access means.

The increase in the “smartphone-only” phenomenon largely corresponds to the decrease in home broadband internet adoption over this period. The rise in “smartphone-only” adults is especially pronounced among low-income households and rural adults. African Americans, who saw a marked decline in home broadband internet adoption, also exhibited a sharp increase in “smartphone-only” adoption (from 10% to 19%), as did parents with school-age children (from 10% in 2013 to 17% in 2015).

Previous surveys have explored various challenges that the “smartphone-dependent” face. In particular, those who have smartphones only or have limited online access options tend to be younger, lower-income, and are more likely to be non-white. They also are more likely than other users to run up against data-cap limits that often accompany smartphone service plans, and more frequently have to cancel or suspend service due to financial constraints.

The increase in “smartphone-only” adoption, along with the corresponding decline in home broadband internet subscriptions, captures two facets of contemporary society: rapid innovation in the information technology space and stagnant household incomes. At the same time that innovation in information technology has transformed people’s communications patterns in the past decade, household incomes have declined. Given the role that affordability of service plays in people’s choice to forgo a home broadband internet subscription, strained household budgets may play a role in the drop in high-speed subscriptions. Smartphones help fill the access gaps for some of these households, particularly as people increasingly see home broadband internet access as crucial in a variety of areas.

A shift in how people watch TV is underway, as data suggests that 15% of American adults are now “cord cutters” – that is, they indicate that they once had a cable or satellite TV connection, but no longer subscribe, but that’s another story for another day.

Willie E. Brake is a Computer Expert and Industry Analyst at All About Technology, a Certified Minority Business Enterprise and Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, based in Detroit, Michigan.

Author: Willie Brake

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