Wired Broadband On The Way Out?

According to the latest computer and internet-use data released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Americans’ rapid move toward mobile internet service may come at the expense of home broadband.

The results come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), which includes data collected for the NTIA in July 2015 from nearly 53,000 households. These findings suggest that technological changes are driving a profound shift in how Americans use the internet, which may be opening a new digital divide based on the use of particular devices and internet services.

“Mobile internet service appears to be competing more directly with wired-internet connections,” said Giulia McHenry, chief economist with the Office of Policy Analysis and Development. 

Three-quarters of American households using the internet at home in 2015 still used wired technologies for high-speed internet service. However, it is a sizeable drop in wired home broadband use, from 82 percent in July 2013 to 75 percent in 2015.

“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,” McHenry said.

Internet users in low-income households were significantly more likely to depend on a mobile data plan than those with higher incomes—29 percent of households with incomes below $25,000, compared with 15 percent of households with incomes of $100,000 or more.

“Although wired internet service continued to be the preferred mode of home internet use in 2015 among those most likely to be able to afford it, the use of mobile data plans is clearly becoming more popular across demographics,” McHenry said.

Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly reliant on a wide range of devices to meet their computing needs. Smartphone use rose from 45 percent in 2013 to 53 percent in 2015, surpassing laptops to become the most widely used computing device. Tablet use also increased substantially during this period. There was also a big jump from 2013 (18 percent) to 2015 (27 percent) in the proportion of Americans who used smart televisions and TV-connected devices. Laptop use remained steady in 2015, while desktop computer use continued to slide.

Despite the trend toward more wireless, wired broadband demand will continue to remain strong. Everything ultimately must be connected by cables at some point.

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