In the United States, as elsewhere, mobile Internet capability has become an important means for eliminating access divides.
We have seen this pattern before. As recently as the 1980s, policy analysts and regulators might have legitimately been concerned about how to eliminate the gap between people who could make a phone call, and those who could not.
Already, it is fairly clear that mobile devices and networks also will close the gap between people who have access to the Internet, and those who do not.
“Mobile phones are becoming more common among historically disadvantaged groups” and the “adoption gap is shrinking across demographic and socioeconomic groups,” NTIA reports.
Already, mobile Internet access has 91 percent or higher adoption, where fixed broadband has about 79 percent adoption.
In fact, use of mobile phones now is “no longer statistically significant” across racial groups, NTIA reports. In 2011, 86 percent of Whites used mobile phones, compared to 84 percent of African Americans and 83 percent of Hispanics.
In 2012, however, adoption among African Americans and Hispanics grew to 87 percent each, while adoption among Whites grew more slowly to 88 percent, NTIA says.
The point is that use of mobile broadband now is an important way people choose to use the Internet and Internet apps and services, even when fixed access is available.
Mobile broadband networks (with speeds of at least 3 Mbps download and 768 Mbps upload) are available to 97.5 percent of U.S. population as of June 30, 2013. Equally important, 90 percent of U.S. residents had access to 4G service, defined as service with download speeds of at least 6 Mbps, as of the end of 2012.
Mobile phone use among those with family incomes below $25,000 and among disabled Americans each increased by four percentage points, growing from 73 percent to 77 percent for lower-income families and from 68 percent to 72 percent for disabled residents.
Similarly, mobile phone use among seniors 65 and older grew by four percentage points between 2011 and 2012, from 68 percent to 72 percent.
NTIA’s “Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet,” is based on a U.S. Census Bureau survey in October 2012 of more than 53,000 households, and found that U.S. residents were increasingly using their mobile devices to engage in applications that they might have previously done on a desktop or laptop computer or not at all.
Between July 2011 and October 2012, the report found big increases in mobile phone users 25 and older who used their devices to download mobile applications (22 percent to 32 percent), browse the Web (33 percent to 42 percent), check their email (33 percent to 43 percent), and use social networks (22 percent to 30 percent).
The point: in the United States as elsewhere, mobile Internet access often is the preferred way of using the Internet. Mobile access closes gaps between haves and have-nots, in part because mobile access and apps seem to represent the ways many people prefer to use the Internet.
When combined with advances in mobile Internet connectivity, some form of broadband, whether fixed or mobile, is now available to almost 99 percent of the U.S. population, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration now reports.
“Internet availability” is one problem, “Internet usage” is a separate problem. The former deals with the ability of a potential consumer to buy, the latter with the willingness to do so.
Availability is related to adoption, but not in a strictly linear way.
There remain some consumers who say they do not buy Internet access (particularly fixed access) because it is “too expensive.”
U.S. fixed network Internet access now is purchased by 72 percent of households. That leaves 28 percent of homes that do not buy, as of October 2012.
Over a quarter of these non-users, representing over seven percent of American households, did not go online at home primarily because it was “too expensive.”
But a lack of need or interest remain the main reasons why people do not buy fixed network Internet access.
About 48 percent of non-using households gave this reason in both 2011 and 2012, NTIA reports.
Not owning a computer, or a suitable computer was the reason cited by 11 percent of homes for not buying fixed Internet access.
Libraries were important locations of Internet access across all income and educational brackets (used by 11 percent of households nationally), but especially so for unemployed householders (20 percent), households with school-age children (18 percent) and African Americans (16 percent).
The larger point is that all assessments of “Internet use” now have to contend with end user preferences, not simply take rates and availability. Increasingly, consumers choose to use one, the other, or both, in ways that suit them.
Retail price and affordability remain important, but might not be the crucial issues. Consumers need to see value in relationship to price, as is true for all products and services. Only 79 percent of respondents say they own a PC, for example.
At least historically, not using a computer was a very good reason for not buying high speed access. These days, there are other reasons to buy high speed access. In a growing number of cases, video entertainment or gaming might drive the decision, not just PC operations.
Mobile phone use among rural Americans also grew by five percentage points to 85 percent between 2011 and 2012.
Mobile phone use among urban Americans increased more slowly during this same period, from 86 percent to 88 percent, matching the two percentage-point increase to 88 percent in mobile phone use among all Americans 25 and older.
Still, affluent mobile phone users and those with college degrees were more likely to engage in a range of activities on their devices than those with no high school diploma.
For example, 57 percent of mobile phone-using college graduates checked email on mobile devices, compared with 19 percent of users without a high school diploma.
And 63 percent of users with family incomes of $100,000 or more said they used their devices for email, compared with 27 percent of users with family incomes below $25,000 – a 36 percentage-point gap.
The report found that 28 percent of households still do not use broadband at home. Those households not online at home cited a lack of interest or need (48 percent) as the main reason why, followed by 29 percent who said they could not afford home Internet service.
Keep in mind that mobile broadband usage is higher than fixed network usage. In the United States, mobile broadband adoption already had reached 90 percent by 2012.
Fixed high speed access still is important. But there increasingly are different ways consumers can mix and match their Internet access choices. Mobile might be the most-important choice for many consumers.
Spectrum Futures 2014
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