NTIA: Mobile-only home internet users doubles to 20% of all Americans in 2015

Americans' ever-increasing appetite for mobile data appears to be eating into home broadband usage, according to fresh data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Three-fourths of U.S. households accessing the web at home last year did so through fixed-line connections such as cable, DSL and FiOS, wrote Giulia McHenry, NTIA's chief economist of the office of policy analysis and development. That's a "sizable drop" from the 82 percent who used fixed-line connections at home in July 2013.

"Over this same period, the data also shows that the proportion of online households that relied exclusively on mobile service at home doubled between 2013 and 2015, from 10 percent to 20 percent," McHenry wrote.

And while the move toward mobile is occurring across demographics, low-income households "were significantly more likely to depend on a mobile data plan than those with higher incomes," she continued, confirming an ongoing movement. Twenty-nine percent of online households with family incomes below $25,000 used only mobile internet service at home, while only 15 percent of households with incomes of $100,000 or more were mobile-only.

"Although the proportion of high-income households that exclusively used mobile internet service at home grew somewhat more rapidly between 2013 and 2015, online households with higher incomes are still far less reliant on mobile alone for internet access than those in the lowest income group," McHenry observed. That trend will almost surely continue as companies like Facebook, Google and the startup Starry move forward with initiatives aimed at providing wireless broadband offerings that may be less expensive than fixed-line services, perhaps even threatening to disrupt legacy cellular carriers.

The increasing rate of mobile-only home internet users is particularly noteworthy in light of ongoing efforts on the part of legislators and regulators to provide access to the web to all Americans who want it, McHenry noted. Indeed, the FCC voted just three weeks ago to expand the Lifeline program to cover broadband Internet service for low-income Americans in a move that will enable roughly 40 million Americans to apply an existing monthly subsidy toward the purchase of a mobile or fixed-line broadband service as a standalone offering or bundled with a voice plan.

Meanwhile, the dominance of desktop and laptop computers as online devices is waning as more users access the web through phones, tablets, connected TVs and wearables, NTIA data indicates. So it's incumbent on legislators to consider not just the kinds of devices people have access to but also the constraints of those devices when crafting policy.

"The plethora of connected devices now available opens up exciting possibilities, though it also raises the specter of a new type of digital divide," McHenry concluded. "This new divide is characterized not solely be whether an individual can use the internet, but by the full range of capabilities available to the user, including whether that person can access sufficient service and a device that is suited to a particular task."

For more:
- see this NTIA blog post

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