April 21, 2011

The End Of The Line For Landlines?

Americans are dropping their landline phones in record numbers in favor of cellphones, but nowhere is that more apparent than in Arkansas and Mississippi.

According to new estimates released on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 35 percent of adults in Arkansas and Mississippi have cellphones and no traditional hardwired telephones. The estimates show that the smallest rates are found in New Jersey and Rhode Island, at 13 percent.

Experts believe the reason for the growing dependence on mobile phones only is that most people cannot afford landlines.

"The answer's obvious. No one has money here," said John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Mississippi, who has had extensive experience in the telecommunications industry.

"If they can do without a landline, they'll do it to save money," he told The Associated Press (AP).

Daigle's conclusion is supported by Stephen Blumberg, a senior CDC scientist and author of the survey. Blumberg found that people who have less income are likelier than their wealthier counterparts to have only a cellphone.

Young people and renters are also more likely to have only cellphones, he added.

New Jersey, which is more wealthy and has less young people, is the leading reason why it is at the bottom of the list for just cellphone owners, Blumberg explained.

The state-by-state figures, which cover 12 months through June 2010, are significant findings, said Blumberg.

Besides Arkansas and Mississippi, eight states -- mostly in the west (Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas) -- have populations where at least 30 percent of adults rely solely on mobile phones.

In the bottom tier, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Dakota join New Jersey and Rhode Island as the states with less than 17 percent of adults using just cellphones.

The new figures showed that the proportion of adults using only cellphones has grown in all 50 states since 2007. Arkansas has had the greatest increase, with 15 percent, while New Jersey had the lowest growth of 7 percent.

"That's not surprising to me," Charles Golvin, a telecommunications analyst with the market research firm Forrester Research Inc., said of the growth. The findings show that people across the country are facing challenges with the weak economy, he told AP's Alan Fram.

Other measurements also detail how widespread people's dependence on wireless phones has become.

The proportion of US adults living in households with cellphones -- including those that have landlines -- range from 92 percent in Iowa to 48 percent in South Dakota. Also, large numbers of adults live in households that get most of their phone calls on cellphones. The highest rate occurs in Texas: 53 percent, and the lowest in South Dakota: 25 percent.

Blumberg said he was puzzled by the South Dakota figures, which differed greatly from other similar, nearby states.

South Dakota's 16 percent rate of people who rely solely on cellphones is about half North Dakota's rate. Also, 51 percent of adults in South Dakota reported having only a landline phone, much higher than the 37 percent in the next highest state: Montana.

Steve Kolbeck, chairman of South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission, said he believes his state's low reliance on cellphones reflected its vast rural settings. But other nearby states have similar topography and a higher dependence on mobile telephony.

"For as mobile as people are in South Dakota and as remote as we are? I mean, everybody and their dog seems to have a cellphone, but they must be keeping their landline as that backup," Kolbeck told Fram, adding that the findings are surprising.

The estimates are based largely on data from the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by CDC. The survey consisted of more than 109,000 households over the past 42 months. Statistics from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey were also used. And with information from listed telephone directories, the figures were compiled to produce a single estimate.

Further reading of the estimates can be found at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr039.pdf.