According to a January 2014 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 87 percent of Americans now have internet access.
The flip side of this unprecedented overall penetration is that U.S. internet adoption is actually slowing compared to all previous years. Simply put, those who don’t already have internet access probably either can’t get it or don’t want it. There are still plenty of areas where internet service, especially broadband, is still largely unavailable. And there are still significant portions of the population that lack the interest or the means to sign up with an ISP.
DSL and cable still command the lion’s share of hardwired broadband connections, although there is a surge in consumer interest in the increasing deployment of fiber optic internet service. Interestingly, the broadband numbers are slightly down from the previous years. In an uncertain economy, one could easily conclude that Americans are cutting access speeds in order to cut costs. Also, this could reflect the increasing trend to migrate to a mobile provider to get internet from a smartphone with a data plan, instead of a home PC with a broadband ISP.
Pew survey results show that 91% of adult Americans own cell phones, and for 55% of these (i.e., 35% of all US adults), it’s a smartphone. Given the things American’s say they do most with the internet, smartphones are increasingly able to satisfy their needs with far more immediacy and convenience than a bigger, less portable PC.
In addition to more and better devices, mobile providers are offering higher bandwidth and more coverage than ever. This is both good and bad. Due to the increase in subscribers using more available bandwidth, contract providers have felt it necessary to almost completely phase out their previous ‘unlimited’ data plans (the ‘last man standing’ is Sprint, and probably not for long). Despite enjoying more customers, the average cost of providers’ mobile plans keep creeping up and perhaps, as a result, the uncertain economic landscape has been something of a boon for prepaid mobile providers.
Meanwhile, the internet itself hasn’t changed too much. The slow transition to the much-touted “Web 2.0” continues, with more focus on interactive web apps and social media. More people are streaming rather than downloading video and audio — in part due to a combination of higher bandwidth connections and greater use of devices less geared toward storage, such as smartphones, tablets, and netbooks. Likewise, more and more websites are optimizing their pages for mobile device usage, or creating separate mobile versions.
So on one hand, the ‘geography’ of the internet is much the same as it was a year ago, but the ISP ‘roads’ that we take to get on and around it have evolved dramatically.
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