The latest results from the National Center for Health Statistics’ survey on wireless phone use are in, and they reveal that just over 20 percent of all US households have now cut the wire and exclusively use cell phones for voice communication. That number is up from over 17 percent from the previous survey, and for the first time since the NCHS has been keeping track of wireless phone use, this number exceeds the percentage of households that rely on landline phones only—down to a little over 17 percent.
The NCHS collects this data as part of its twice-yearly National Health Interview Survey. Because phone numbers are collected during the interviews for follow-up questions, NCHS began asking questions about wireless phone use in 2003. The NCHS compiles this data since many telephone-based surveys use only landline numbers, and so potential respondents who rely solely on a cellphone would be left out, causing such a survey’s results to be skewed and unreliable.
Not only has the percentage of wireless-only households exceeded the percentage of landline-only households, but wireless-only households increased 17 percent from the first half of 2008. That’s the largest increase in wireless-only households since NCHS started collecting this data, according to the report. While nearly 60 percent of households use both wireless and landline phone service, one in seven households receive all or most calls via cellphone.
This trend has been ongoing for some time, but even early last year AT&T noted that landline customers were decreasing significantly. In its most recent quarter, for instance, the company got less than 30 percent of its revenue from wired voice customers, and over 40 percent from wireless customers. Likewise, Verizon saw landline subscribers decrease from 39 to 35 million, while wireless subscribers increased from 67 to 87 million.
Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and one of the authors of the report, believes the large jump is likely due to the recession. “We do expect that with the recession, we’d see an increase in the prevalence of wireless only households, above what we might have expected had there been no recession,” Blumberg told the Associated Press.
The demographic data that accompanies the report shows that large percentages of groups that might be associated with lower income live in wireless only households. Over a third of young people aged 18-29 are wireless-only. Over 60 percent of adults that share a house or apartment with roommates, nearly 40 percent of all renters, and 25 percent of Hispanics are wireless-only.
Though the convenience of an always available connection certainly appeals to tech-savvy and young people in general, it just doesn’t make a lot of economic sense to pay for a landline when you can make and receive calls from your cellphone—especially when domestic long-distance charges are often included. “The end game is consumers are paying two bills for the same service,” John Fletcher, an analyst for the market research firm SNL Kagan,told the Associated Press “Which are they going to choose? They’ll choose the one they can take with them in their car.”