Americans are abandoning their wired Internet for a mobile-data-only diet — and if the trend continues, it could reflect a huge shift in the way we experience the Web.
For the most part, America’s Internet-usage trends can be summed up in a few phrases. The Internet is now so common as to be a commodity; the rich have better Internet than the poor; more whites have Internet than people of color; and compared with low-income minorities, affluent whites are more likely to have fixed, wired Internet connections to their homes.
But it may be time to put an asterisk on that last point, according to new data on a sample of 53,000 Americans. In fact, Americans as a whole are growing less likely than before to have residential broadband, the figures show.
In plain English, they’re abandoning their wired Internet for a mobile-data-only diet — and if the trend continues, it could reflect a huge shift in the way we experience the Web.
The study, conducted for the Commerce Department by the U.S. Census Bureau, partly upholds what we already knew. Low-income Americans are still one of the biggest demographics to rely solely on their phones to get online. Today nearly a third of households earning less than $25,000 a year exclusively use mobile Internet to browse the Web. That’s up from 16 percent in 2013.
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They’re often cited as evidence of a digital divide; families with little money to afford a home Internet subscription must resort to free Wi-Fi at libraries and even McDonald’s to do homework, look for jobs and find information.
But people with higher incomes are ditching their wired Internet access at similar or even faster rates. In 2013, 8 percent of households making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year were mobile-only. Fast-forward a couple of years, and that figure is 18 percent.
Seventeen percent of households making between $75,000 and $100,000 are mobile-only now, compared with 8 percent two years ago. And 15 percent of households earning more than $100,000 are mobile-only, versus 6 percent in 2013.
As many as one in five U.S. households are now mobile-only, compared with one in 10 in 2013. That’s a doubling in just two years.
This suggests that having only one form of Internet access instead of two may no longer be explained simply as the result of financial hardship but could be a conscious choice, at least for wealthier people, who are deciding it’s not necessary to have both.
These results paint the clearest picture yet of a country moving from fixed networks toward wireless networks. They highlight how, for many, 4G LTE and other wireless technologies could be turning into viable substitutes for home broadband. And it helps explain many of the changes consumers are seeing.
Companies like Verizon are increasingly shifting to prioritize mobile service over wired service. Cable companies are exploring how to compete with telecom companies for wireless customers by setting up cheap, public Wi-Fi hot spots that allow for voice calls and Web browsing.
Even Google and Facebook have experimented with beaming Internet wirelessly down to devices on the ground.
All this is happening because companies perceive a tremendous opportunity to make money in mobile Internet. And considering how even the wealthy appear to be voting with their feet, it appears the industry may be onto something.