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America's Broadband Secrets Revealed

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The share of Americans who primarily go online through a smartphone has nearly doubled in recent years, a new Pew Research Center survey finds. Today, 37% of U.S. adults say that when using the internet, they mostly do so on a smartphone. This share was just 19% in 2013 – the most recent time the Center asked this question.

The survey finds that younger adults are especially likely to reach for their phone when going online. Fully 58% of 18-to-29-year-olds say they mostly go online through their smartphone, up from 41% in 2013. Still, this growth is evident across all age groups. For example, the share of adults ages 30 to 49 who say they mostly use a smartphone to go online has nearly doubled – from 24% in 2013 to 47% today.

A chart showing 17% of Americans are

Indeed, mobile devices are not simply being used more often to go online – some Americans are forgoing traditional broadband at home in favor of their smartphone. A majority of adults say they subscribe to home broadband, but about one-in-four (27%) do not. And growing shares of these non-adopters cite their mobile phone as a reason for not subscribing to these services.

Among non-broadband users, 45% say they do not have broadband at home because their smartphone lets them do everything they need to do online, up substantially from 27% in 2015 when the Center last asked this question of non-users. Indeed, the share of non-broadband users who say their smartphone is the most important reason for not having a high-speed internet connection where they live has nearly doubled over the same time period, from 12% to 23%. And while affordability remains a commonly cited barrier, the share of non-broadband adopters who say the cost of a monthly subscription is the most important reason for not having these services has fallen from 33% in 2015 to 21% today.

A chart showing Smartphone owners' preferred way of accessing the internet varies substantially by age

These patterns underscore the reliance that a minority of Americans have on their smartphone for internet access. Some 17% of U.S. adults are “smartphone only internet users” – meaning they report owning a smartphone but do not have a traditional high-speed internet connection where they live. This share has roughly doubled since 2013, when 8% of adults fell into this category.

Other findings include:

  • Overall, 73% of U.S. adults say they subscribe to broadband internet services at home, but this varies substantially by demographic group. For example, 92% of adults from households earning $75,000 or more a year say they have broadband internet at home, but that share falls to 56% among those whose annual household income falls below $30,000. That 36-point gap in broadband adoption between the highest- and lowest-income groups is substantially larger than the 24-point gap in smartphone ownership between these groups. Educational differences follow a nearly identical pattern. And as has been true with other Pew Research Center surveys, there are double-digit gaps in home broadband adoption by community type, as well as by race and ethnicity.
  • Roughly one-in-four lower-income adults are smartphone only internet users. In general, smartphone reliance for internet access tends to be more common among groups who also have lower levels of broadband adoption. Some 26% of adults who have a high school education or less are smartphone only internet users. By comparison, 16% of those with some college experience, and only 4% of college graduates fall into this category. Lower-income adults are also more likely than those in higher-earning households to be smartphone only internet users. Racial and ethnic gaps are also present: One-quarter of Hispanics and a comparable share of blacks are smartphone only internet users, compared with about one-in-ten whites.
  • For those who own a smartphone, these devices now outpace more traditional means of accessing the web. Some 46% of smartphone owners say when using the internet, they mostly do so on their phone. This represents a double-digit increase from 2013, when 34% of these users said this. At the same time, the share of smartphone users who say a desktop, laptop or tablet computer is their primary device for going online has fallen from 53% in 2013 to 30% today. Roughly one-quarter of smartphone users say they equally use a cellphone or a desktop, laptop or tablet computer when going online, up from 12% six years prior.
  • A majority of non-broadband users have never had high-speed internet at home and relatively few are interested in having it in the future. Six-in-ten non-broadband users say they have never had high-speed internet service at home in the past, while one-third indicate that they had previously subscribed to these services. And when asked if they are interested in having home broadband in the future, most non-adopters are unenthusiastic about this prospect. Fully 80% of non-broadband users say they would not be interested in having broadband at home, while 18% think this is something they would consider in the future.

These are among the key findings from Pew Research Center’s nationally representative survey conducted from Jan. 8 to Feb. 7, 2019, among a sample of 1,502 adults 18 years of age or older living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The survey was conducted by interviewers under the direction of Abt Associates. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.85 percentage points.

Read the full report:

Contacts and sources:
Shawnee Cohn
Pew Research Center


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