A smartphone is a poor, and the poor’s, choice for broadband

by Steve Blum • , , ,

If a smartphone was the killer Internet access solution that AT&T claims it is – usually when trying to divert attention from substandard or even non-existent wireline service in rural and inner city communities – then you’d expect to see something like an even spread of usage cases across demographic groups.

The Pew Foundation’s latest research shows that is clearly not the case.

Overall, 12% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, but do not otherwise use the Internet at home. A deeper dive into those numbers indicates, though, it’s not a matter of style or choice. Only 5% of high earners rely solely on a smartphone, while 21% of those in the lowest income bracket – less than $30,000 a year – do.

The gap is even bigger when education is factored in. Again, 5% of highly educated adults are smartphone-only, versus 27% of those without a high school diploma.

There is also stratification by age and race. Blacks (15%) are more likely than whites (9%) to be smartphone reliant, and latinos even more so (23%). Pew didn’t provide cross tabs, but I’ll speculate that if the numbers were broken out by income and education levels, those would be the significant factors.

The age spread is less, but still significant. Adults under 30 years old come in at 17%, while 7% of those 65 and up are in the smartphone-only category. Again, income and education levels are likely more determinative, but the basic gating question – does a person use the Internet or not? – is probably the main explanation for the gap. There’s a big age divide between those two age groups when it comes to Internet adoption – at home or on a smartphone – 99% versus 64%.

There’s no gender difference in smartphone-only rates – men and women are both at the overall average of 12%. There’s also no significant difference between urban and suburban (both 12%) and rural (14%) areas, although differences in availability were not factored into Pew’s numbers.

Some U.S. adults probably do rely solely on smartphones as a matter of choice, but the income and education gaps indicate that necessity – a simple lack of economic choice – is the real driver.