In recent years internet-connected mobile devices such as smartphones have exploded in popularity, offering an alternate form of “home” internet access. Today 56% of...
connectionIn recent years internet-connected mobile devices such as smartphones have exploded in popularity, offering an alternate form of “home” internet access. Today 56% of American adults own a smartphone of some kind, compared with 70% who have broadband at home, reveals a survey conducted by the PewResearchCenter’s Internet & American Life Project.

“There is no widespread consensus as to whether 3G or 4G smartphones qualify as “broadband” speed, and many would question whether they offer the same utility to users as a dedicated home internet connection (activities such as updating a resume, filing taxes, or viewing educational content are certainly more challenging on a smartphone operating over a cell phone network, than on a broadband-connected home computer). For these reasons, smartphones are qualitatively distinct enough that we do not include them in our standard definition of what constitutes a “broadband user””, say PewResearchCenter analysts.

Read also: 3% of American adults go online at home via dial-up. But no worries! 70% have high-speed broadband connection

Smartphones do offer a potential source of online access to individuals who might otherwise lack the ability to go online at all from within the home, even if that access is somewhat limited in comparison. According to this study, 10% of Americans indicate that they do not have a broadband connection at home but that they do own a smartphone (another way to say this is that 32% of non-broadband users own a smartphone). 

“If we include that 10% of Americans with the 70% who have traditional broadband, that means that 80% of Americans have either a broadband connection, a smartphone, or both”, added the company’s analysts.

In a nutshell, the study shows the following:

  • 46% of Americans have both a home broadband connection and a smartphone
  • 24% have a home broadband connection, but not a smartphone
  • 10% have a smartphone, but not a home broadband connection
  • The remaining 20% of Americans have neither a home broadband connection nor a smartphone.

Including smartphones in the definition of home broadband access helps narrow the differences between some demographic groups, but widens the gap between others. Differences between racial and ethnic groups are an example of smartphones narrowing the “broadband gap”: While blacks and Latinos are less likely to have access to home broadband than whites, their use of smartphones nearly eliminates that difference.

On the other hand, including smartphones in our broadband definition actually exacerbates differences in broadband adoption rates between young and old. Looking just at our standard definition of home broadband adoption, we find that 80% of young adults ages 18-29 have a high-speed broadband at home, compared with 43% of seniors ages 65 and older—a gap of 37 percentage points. If we include smartphone ownership in our definition of home broadband, this gap actually increases to 49 percentage points, because young adults are more likely than seniors to own smartphones as well.

Adding smartphone ownership to home broadband use, we see that the proportion of young adults who have ”home broadband” under this definition increases from 80% to 95%, while including smartphones has no discernible impact on access rates for seniors—the 46% of seniors who have broadband or a smartphone is little different from the 43% who have broadband at all.

The same study shows that 70% of American adults ages 18 and older have a high-speed broadband connection at home. This data is valid since May 2013 and shows a four percent rise in the number of adults who said they had home broadband in April 2012.

The Census Bureau’s July 2011 Current Population Survey found that about 98% of U.S. households live in areas where they have access to broadband Internet connections as of July 2011, although only 69% of households used broadband at home.  According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Economics and Statistics Administration, the proportion of Americans households with home broadband rose to 72% as of October 2012.

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