Homes with broadband Internet hit plateau

The percentage of U.S. homes with high-speed broadband Internet service has significantly fallen for the first time, as a growing number of Americans are relying solely on mobile broadband service via smartphones.

Overall, about 67% of U.S. homes have broadband connectivity, down from 70% in 2013, according to the new Home Broadband report, out today from the Pew Research Center.

On the rise: those who connect to the Net using only smartphones, now at 13%, up from 8% two years ago. That boosts the total Americans with broadband via home and mobile connectivity at 80%, compared to 78% in 2013.

The main reason for not having broadband? One-third (33%) said the monthly cost is too high while 10% said the cost of a computer is the biggest barrier.

That should raise some concerns as many of those surveyed by Pew say that the lack of home broadband service would make it harder to find a job, get health information or other data. Seven out of ten (69%) say that now, compared to 56% in 2010. For the report, Pew surveyed more than 6,000 Americans aged 18 or older in September 2013 and in three separate surveys in 2015.

"Though the changes we see are significant statistically, we are not calling this a new trend -- but an important pattern to watch," said John Horrigan, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center.

Concerns about the cost of home broadband is greatest among those who say they would most likely benefit from the advances of the service, the Pew researchers said. Among the benefits: accessing government services, looking for jobs, getting news and learning new things that could enrich their lives.

Income disparity among households with broadband access has prompted public and private-sector efforts to make high-speed Internet access more accessible. The head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was recently in San Francisco rallying tech company support for the agency's ConnectHome initiative, which aims to bring broadband Internet access to 750,000 residents of low-income housing communities in 28 cities.

According to Pew, the biggest declines in broadband adoption were among lower- to middle-income homes, rural homes, minority homes -- with African Americans seeing a decline of 8% and Hispanics 6% -- and among parents of children under the age of 18.

Increases in those relying on smartphones for broadband connectivity mirror the decline in home broadband adoption, the researchers say. Smartphone-only adults rose among low-income households (annual incomes of $20,000 or less), rural adults, African Americans, Hispanics and parents with school-age children, they found.

Beyond the advantages lost to not having home broadband, smartphone-dependent persons face other challenges, the researchers say. "There are limits to smartphones as a sole Internet access device, as those users often run up against data caps," Horrigan said.

Low-income smartphone users also are more likely to experience interruptions of their service because of financial constraints, he said. "So smartphone-only users tend to have less robust Internet usage patterns than those who have home broadband subscriptions."

That some consumers opt for mobile broadband over fixed broadband isn't necessarily a bad thing, says Roger Entner, analyst at Recon Analytics. "A mobile broadband connection is a lot more with you than a fixed one and has a lot more uses," he said. "And, on top of that, it's much more affordable."

As government and industry improve the mobile-friendliness of their apps, nearly all tasks can be done on a mobile device, he says. "You can write your résumé on your cell phone," Entner said.

Another finding: 15% of adults are now cord cutters and have dropped traditional pay TV service in favor of TV and movies streamed online. Overall, 24% of homes did not have pay TV service, Pew found. These findings on cord cutting, as well as those about the barriers to getting and the disadvantages of not having broadband were based on responses from 2,001 U.S. adults surveyed by Pew in June 2015.

Nearly one in five young adults (19% of those aged 18-29) have cut pay TV service, the survey found, while another 16% have never had pay TV.

Pew's findings parallel those in a recent Forrester research survey of 32,000 U.S. adults that about one-fourth (24%) do not have a pay TV subscription. But Forrester found that 6% were cord cutters and 18% were cord nevers.

Most cord cutters (71%) said they did so because of the high cost of pay TV service, Pew says. Two-thirds (64%) said they cut the cord because they can get their desired programming with an over-air antenna, on the Net or on a streaming video service.

By Mike Snyder for USAtoday.com

To read the entire Pew Report, click here: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/12/21/home-broadband-2015/


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