Since it’s the start of the New Year I thought I would take a look at the most recent statistics that have been released for the telephone industry The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently published the latest Wireless Substitution Report which looked at household penetration rates for landlines and cellphones. This seems like an odd branch of the government to be tracking telephone penetration rates. But this agency is tasked with tracking child poverty in the country and they began asking questions about telephone usage years ago because they were concerned that their normal way of doing telephone surveys was becoming inaccurate.
And they were right. I wrote a recent blog talking about how surveys done to only landlines are no longer statistically valid. And this latest report shows this to be the case. It shows that landline use in general has continued to decline. But it also shows that this decline is not across the board.
For example, the study summarizes the percentage of people living in wireless-only households for two categories – those with at least one child under 18 in the home and those with no children. In every state the percentage of wireless-only households is larger for families with children than for those without. And the difference are significant. For example, for Alabama (the first state on the list) there are 13% more homes with children that are wireless-only (47% versus 34%).
This big difference means that if you conduct a survey using landlines you are statistically much more likely to be calling homes without children. And that is very likely going to slew your results for any survey that might be affected by having kids in the house. For example, if you are asking about broadband, homes with kids are generally the ones who need the most bandwidth.
It’s interesting to see how the wireless and wireline penetration rates vary by state. For example, there are a few states where the percentage of families who are wireless-only is relatively high like Mississippi (59%), Idaho (58%), and Arkansas (57%). But there are also states where homes with children still have landlines. Consider the wireless-only penetration rates for homes with families for New Jersey (20%), Connecticut (21%), Vermont (23%) and New York (23%) and Massachusetts (24%). While this report doesn’t report on the correlation of these penetration rates to household income, it looks like the more wealthy states still have more landlines than poorer states.
There is also a difference in wireless-only homes between urban areas and rural areas. In a number of the states the survey looked deeper at the penetration rates in certain urban areas, and in almost all cases there are more wireless-only homes in urban areas than in the state as a whole (meaning that the penetration rates for wireless-only must be lower in suburban and rural areas). Some of the urban areas have a very high wireless-only penetration such as Dallas (63%), Montgomery (57%), Nashville (56%) and Detroit (54%).
The survey also breaks down homes into several categories of telephone usage – wireless-only, wireless-mostly, Dual-use, landline-mostly, landline-only and no telephone. These statistics should worry anybody who builds a business plan off selling a lot of residential landlines.
First, the number of homes with no phones is still at 1% – 2% in most states as it has been for decades. But the number of households that have only a landline is around 10% in most states with a few places at half of that. The lowest landline-only penetration is in the twin cities in Minnesota where only 3.2% of households only use a landline.
But what is probably most striking from the report is looking to see how many homes have a landline at all. In the tables the percentage of homes that have a landline would be those that are not wireless-only who have a phone of some kind. There are states and cities where less than half of homes still have landlines. For example, in Arkansas only 48% of homes have a landline. In Idaho it’s 45%. In Dallas it’s only 42%.
Of course there are still places where most homes have landlines such as in Connecticut where 79% of homes still have a landline. But for a lot of the country the percentages of homes with landlines has dropped significantly over the last few years. I look forward to seeing these same statistics in another year or two. These numbers are based upon 2012 surveys and it’s likely that the numbers are even lower than shown in this report.