Pew: 64% of American adults have a smartphone, and 10% rely on it for their broadband connection

Smartphones are becoming more ubiquitous in the United States and Americans are also simultaneously relying on them for broadband access, according to a new survey from Pew Research.

The report found that 64 percent of American adults now have a smartphone, up from 35 percent in the spring of 2011. However, some Americans are also becoming dependent on smartphones to access the Internet.

Pew's survey measured reliance on smartphones for online access in two different ways. The polling firm first asked smartphone owners whether they have traditional broadband service at home, and then also whether they have a reasonable number of options for accessing the Internet in general from any location.

The survey found that 10 percent of Americans own a smartphone but do not have any other form of high-speed Internet access at home beyond their phone's data plan. However, using a broader measure of the access options available to them, the firm found that 15 percent of Americans own a smartphone but said that they have a limited number of ways to get online other than their phone.

In total, one in five American adults, or 19 percent, said at least one of those conditions applied to them. Meanwhile, 7 percent of those surveyed said that both of those conditions apply, meaning they do not have broadband access at home, and also have relatively few options for getting online other than their phone.

The survey results speak to several factors reshaping the American communications landscape. One is the growing availability of LTE networks from carriers, which in some cases can be a substitute for home broadband. Another is the relatively high cost of home broadband access in addition to a mobile data plan.

Pew found that certain groups of Americans rely on smartphones for online access at higher levels than others, including young adults, the poor and non-white Americans. The survey found that 15 percent of Americans ages 18-29 are "heavily dependent" on a smartphone for online access. Around 13 percent of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30,000 per year are smartphone-dependent, while just 1 percent of Americans from households earning more than $75,000 per year rely on their smartphones to a similar degree for online access. The survey also reported that 12 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Latinos are smartphone-dependent, compared with 4 percent of whites.

Smartphone-dependent Americans also face stresses and financial burdens that their non-smartphone-dependent counterparts do not. Nearly half, or 48 percent, of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their cell phone service for a period of time because the cost of keeping the service was a "financial hardship." Additionally, 30 percent of smartphone-dependent Americans say that they "frequently" reach the maximum amount of data that they are allowed to consume as part of their plan, and 51 percent say that this happens to them at least occasionally. Unsurprisingly, each of those figures was substantially higher than those reported by smartphone owners with more options to get online, according to Pew.


Click here for Pew's full report.

The survey found that 23 percent of smartphone owners have canceled or suspended their cell phone service because the cost was too expensive. Further, 44 percent of those surveyed whose annual household income falls below $30,000 have discontinued their service at some point. While the vast majority of smartphone owners, 80 percent, say their mobile device is worth the cost, 19 percent describe their phone as a financial burden.

For more:
- see this Pew report
- see this Pew post
- see this Ars Technica article
- see this Re/code article

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