ITU and CDC confirm what we already knew: Wireless is the consumer’s choice

Earlier this week the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported the results of its annual global survey. Mobile broadband connections (47.2% of the global population) have now overtaken households with internet access (46.2%) not to mention fixed broadband connections (10.2%) In terms of the ITU’s Internet Development Index, the US remains among the 15 most developed countries. While some alarmist consider that a poor showing, they do not take into account the differences in size, both population and geography, as countries such as Hong Kong (31 square miles and is part of China) as well as Iceland (200,000 inhabitants) and Luxemburg (543,000 and smaller than Rhode Island) are ahead of the US. The US improved in the rankings again this year. Can the US do better with an investment-friendly policy frame work? Yes, it can.

Later in the week, the Center of Disease Control (CDC) just released an update to their recurring wireless substitution report documenting the shift away from landlines to mobiles. Now you may ask why the CDC does a wireless study: The answer is easy. As part of its National Health Survey, it added a question if respondents have wireless phones, landline phones or both and combined with all the other demographic information it collects, the survey has become the definitive source for  tracking cord-cutting trends.

For the first six months of 2015, 47.4% of the respondents said they had a wireless phone but no landline anymore, i.e.; people we consider cord cutters. For families with children, this number has risen to 55.3%. Initially, cord cutting was accelerated due to the 2005 introduction of a wireless option to the Lifeline program, but in recent years the general population has caught up. While in 2012, only 30.7% of the non-poor Americans had cut the cord, this has increased to 45.7% in 2015, whereas for poor Americans the cord cutters only increased from 51.8% to 59.3%. Employed Americans have increased their cord cutting from 38.4% to 52.7%, whereas unemployed American cord cutting is a lot lower, increasing from 23.6% to 32.7% in the same time frame.

The biggest difference in the adoption of cord cutting depends on where Americans live and their age. Americans in the Northeast are substantially less likely to have cut the cord (31.6%) than Americans in other parts (47.1% to 51.9%.) This does not mean that Northeasterners are immune to cord cutting as the number of cord cutters increased by 50% in the last three years, but is more due to their historically slower start. Not surprisingly, Americans over 65 have the lowest adoption of cord cutting, but never the less almost doubled the cord cutting over the last three years from 10.5% to 19.3%. Never the less, this is still substantially less than the next lowest cord cutting adoption age segment of 45-65 with an increase of 25.8% to 40.8% over the last three years.

As wireless substitution becomes the norm, in-building wireless usage becomes critical as the mobile phone is increasingly becoming the only communications device Americans rely on. The onus lies on local planning boards to do their part to enable wireless network infrastructure to be built quickly. The FCC has introduced a 60-day and 150-day shot clock for collocated or small sites and new cell sites respectively. Local municipalities must now react more quickly on requests for permission to build new cell locations so that Americans can reliably use their mobile phones while at home, just as they do while en route, whether it’s to  check their sports scores on a Sunday afternoon, calling or texting their friends, or to call 911 in a case of emergency.