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Online Life

Phones Define Internet Access for Many, Says New Report

A new Pew report highlights the increasingly stratified nature of how Americans access the Internet. The report examines this shifting ground by analyzing the important, and growing, role that mobile phones play in the onlive lives of American consumers, particularly in communities of color.

Here are a few of the reports key findings:

  • 10% of Americans who own a smartphone have no other form of high-speed Internet access at home.
  • 7% of Americans are “smartphone-dependent,” meaning they (1) don’t have access to high-speed Internet at home except via their phone and (2) also have “relatively few [other] options for getting online other than their phone.”
  • “Smartphone-dependents” are disproportionately non-white and poorer than other Internet users:
    • 4% of whites are smartphone-dependent, whereas 12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos are smartphone-dependent.
    • 13% of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30,000 are smartphone-dependent, compared to just 1% of Americans earning more than $75,000.
  • Almost half (48%) of smartphone-dependent Americans have had to cancel or shut off their cell phone service at some point “because the cost of maintaining that service was a financial hardship.”

Pew’s findings are an important reminder that smartphones can help narrow the digital divide, but only to a certain point. For example, the Pew study notes that 40% of smartphone owners use their mobile phone to look up government services or information and 30% do so to take a class or get educational content. However, as we’ve noted before, these most valuable uses of the Internet are precisely the areas where cell phones may struggle to keep up with full-fledged computers.

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