More Americans Now Using Smartphones vs Broadband

John Lister's picture

The proportion of Americans with a broadband connection (such as cable or DSL) at home has dropped for the first time. The surprise trend appears to be down to cost and people using smartphones as their main way to get online.

The revelation comes from the Pew Research Center, which regularly surveys the public on tech and communications issues. It found the percentage of people who say they have broadband at home is now 67 percent, down from 70 percent in 2013. (Source:

Broadband Use Falling Across The Board

While that could be a statistical quirk, it's borne out by the fact that breaking down the figures shows a drop in every demographic category, whether it be by ethnic background, income or education level.

At the same time, the proportion of people who have a smartphone but don't have broadband access at home has risen from 8 percent to 13 percent - again rising in every demographic. (Source:

In both cases, the trends are significantly stronger among African Americans, including those on very low income and living in rural areas. That could be because the cost of broadband services is relatively high, particularly in rural areas with little or no competition. Other possible factors include smartphone plans becoming more affordable, and students moving back home more frequently, being unable or unwilling to sign up to long-term fixed-line plans.

Cost Is The Prime Broadband Block

It seems many of those who are without broadband are not doing so by choice. Of the survey respondents without broadband, 33 percent said the reason was that the monthly costs was too high, while 10 percent said buying a computer was too expensive. Taking into account those who didn't respond to this question, it means half of those gave a reason, citing cost as the main factor.

Ironically, those who say costs is keeping them from having home broadband are most likely to consider it a major disadvantage to be without it. Overall, two-thirds of people without broadband say it's a major disadvantage in at least one of five listed areas, including: accessing government services, searching for employment, following the news, learning new things, and getting health information.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think the fall in people with home broadband is a quirk or a significant trend? If it's a trend, is it an important social issue or can smartphones with data plans serve as an adequate substitute? Can you think of anything to tackle the problem of affordability?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Personally I'd rather have broadband, because (a) I have unlimited broadband per month and (b) I can easily share broadband with multiple devices that support a wifi connection, spanning multiple locations. That means I can use my smartphone and computer sharing the same connection pretty much anywhere in the home, plus offer my Internet to guests while they visit.

As for the study, I have a few suggestions as to why the fewer people are purchasing broadband plans vs smartphone data plans:

1. More smartphone plans offer unlimited data (vs broadband), and the price is usually considerably less, depending on what the plan entails.

2. Smartphones for the most part cost significantly less than purchasing a computer.

3. Smartphones are much more simple to maintain and use than a computer and provide Internet essentials, including: browsing, emails, and instant messaging.

4. On the flip side, sharing broadband with a neighbor is much more practical than it was a few years ago, especially with the amount of bandwidth available these days. For example, a 25 megabit plan can easily satisfy consumption needs for two households with moderate usage, whereas previously that would not have been the case.

bobf0648's picture

A lot of people want and think they need a phone. The same people only want, but don't think they need broadband at home. With the cost in the USA about the highest of any developed country, we can expect to see more of this as long as the big private service providers control the price and availability of internet service. As 4G LTE service becomes more and more available, more and more people will opt for a smart phone over a computer.

ecash's picture

There seems to be abit of a confusion..
Do you/they really think that Mobile Phones ARNT using the NET or the Phone system backbone?
They are.
Its not a wireless system After it gets to the Receiver antenna..
It would have to be a REAL large system to carry all of the voice and data, wireless across the whole of the nation..and it ISNT. As soon as that receiver gets it, its trunked/Shipped/translated into the Main phone/internet pipelines..

The problem I see is all this related tech, being separated and Not condensed. YOU COULD, setup every home with a small relay for using cellphones very easily. and cover MORE area and give those in the home a LOCAL phone service also.. This would be great in the Farming areas for saturation...There are TONS of holes in the Open farm areas..

inuvato_6208's picture

While they both use "the internet" phones work differently. When a phone is on wifi connected to broadband it networks like a desktop\laptop and is attached to an IP for that house\office. The phone gets an internal address that is routed to the internet etc. Mobile data(2G\3G\LTE) is more like dialup as far as addressing goes it changes each time you reboot or come out of airplane mode and has a lot of 'talk' that is more like UDP than TCP so it is more amorphic\stateless.
I think that is they don't have mDNS or an "Open Mesh" systems here in the U.S. because the need to control access and ensure dependence and profitability. I had some friends in South Korea almost a decade ago they had free Open Gigabyte Wireless in the city everywhere. But then again our country is very big and likes to waste its money on deploying divisions overseas and defending countries like South Korea for decades at a time rather than build up the country from within as an example to the world.