Globally, mobile devices have become the backbone of developing nations where deployment of fixed broadband infrastructures have trailed because of geographic or financial restrictions; it’s not unusual for mobile Internet connections to make up the bulk of broadband connections, and not just among Millennials.
But, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement, more and more users in the United States also are turning to mobile broadband, eschewing traditional fixed Internet connections.
That’s critical news for the digital media industry that has seen mobile as primarily Millennial-centric and has aggressively ramped up its efforts to reach Millennials – and younger viewers – with mobile-first content, a la Snapchat’s recent deal with NBCUniversal for content from the Summer Games in Rio, and the NFL’s recent deal with Twitter to stream Thursday night games.
Data from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) shows mobile Internet service are competing more directly with wired Internet connections. While 75% of American broadband households (HHs) still used wired technologies for high-speed Internet service in 2015, that’s down from 82% in 2013.
The proportion of online HHs that relied exclusively on mobile service at home doubled between 2013 and 2015, to 20% from 10%.
While the trend to rely more on wireless broadband applies to all demographics, it’s most prevalent in HHs with income below $25,000. Twenty-nine percent of those HHs with Internet relied on mobile data plans. Among HHs with incomes of $100,000 or more, just 15% relied on mobile data plans, although growth of mobile reliance was occurring in higher-income HHs more rapidly. Among HHs with incomes of $100,000 or more, reliance on wireless Internet has increased 150% in the past two years; among HHs with incomes from $75,000 to $99,999 it’s up 113%; among HHs with incomes from $50,000 to $74,999 its up 125%; among HHs with incomes from $25,000 to $49,999 it’s up 100%; and among HHs with incomes below $25,000 it’s up 81%.
The NTIA data – gleaned from a poll of 53,000 homes – suggests that it’s not just Millennials and pre-Millennials that are turning away from big screens, but Gen X and Baby Boomers, too. And, while the study doesn’t ask specifically about video on mobile devices, it’s logical to assume that older users also are consuming more and more video content on those devices, meaning that mobile initiatives need to be pushed into higher demos, as well.
“Although wired Internet service continued to be the preferred mode of home Internet use in 2015 among those most likely to be able to afford it, the use of mobile data plans is clearly becoming more popular across demographics,” Giulia McHenry, NTIA’s chief economist, said. “In light of the advantages and limitations of mobile Internet service, policymakers should consider the implications of this shift when crafting policies aimed at getting all Americans online.”
More than half (53%) of American’s said they used smartphones to access the Internet, up from 45% two years ago, more than any other device. Tablet use to access the Internet increased to 29% from 22%, while both laptops and desktop computers were used less often; from 47% to 46% for laptops and from 40% to 34% for desktops. TV-connected devices also were used more often to access the Internet, increasing to 27% from 18%.
Not surprisingly, Americans are using more devices daily, with 57% using two or more and 37% using three or more, a trend McHenry worries could create yet another digital divide.
“This new divide is characterized not solely by whether an individual can use the Internet, but by the full range of capabilities available to the user, including whether that person can access sufficient service and a device that is suited to a particular task,” she said.
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