Consumer confidence remains low in today’s tough economy, but the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s new Mobile Access in 2010 report illustrates a contrarian streak among U.S. consumers when it comes to the mobile marketplace. Across ages and demographics, Americans are showing a remarkable bullishness when it comes to the value and innovation they see in their wireless purchases. In fact, usage of connected devices and applications continues to grow at an unabated and staggering pace.
Over the past year, the number of Americans connecting wirelessly to the Internet is up 8 percentage points, with six out of 10 Americans now using their smartphone or laptop to access the Internet. In fact, more Americans now use their mobile device to connect to the Internet (38%) than play a game on their device (34%). And, it’s not just young millennials gravitating to the nexus of wireless and the Internet. Their parents—folks in the 30 to 49 year old age bracket—are now leading the growth.
African Americans and Latinos also continue to lead in mobile connectivity. Two-thirds of both communities are wireless Internet users. And, African Americans and Latinos continue to outpace whites when it comes to cell phone ownership (87% versus 80%).
These insights illuminate the wireless debate at a pivotal moment, coming on the heels of President Obama’s Executive Order announcing his Administration’s intention to increase the amount of spectrum available to meet consumers’ fast-growing mobile needs. Pew’s methodical documentation of a steep adoption and usage growth trajectory—cutting broadly across the U.S. population—powerfully illustrates the profound importance of these spectrum allocation efforts and the equally essential need to safeguard policies that encourage the billions of dollars in investment needed to get this spectrum into use across the country. This process can take six to 10 years to complete, from the announcement of auctions to the deployment of actual networks, so we need to get started now.
Unfortunately as temperatures rise in Washington (both literally and metaphorically), it seems no debate is safe from the partisan pull of election-year politics. Even U.S. wireless policy, which has enjoyed bipartisan support for a light-tough regulatory framework through both Republican and Democratic administrations, is getting dragged into the pro-regulation and heated rhetorical fray.
It’s hard to justify given the frenetic pace of competition across the mobile landscape. Verizon and Google recently have gone public with their ambitions to challenge the AT&T/Apple iPad alliance. HP, Dell and others also are in hot pursuit. Cox is becoming the first U.S. cable company to directly offer wireless services. Regional players like Leap Wireless and MetroPCS are thriving. And, the Palm Pre was recently offered to consumers for the jaw-dropping price of a single cent. Consumer choices of service providers, plans, devices and applications abound.
All of this, of course, only further fuels the leaps and bounds we’re now seeing in mobile Internet adoption and usage. The arrival of dispassionate, data-driven reports like this Pew contribution are essential to constructive policy conversation that benefit consumers and innovators alike.
The data also clearly illustrates just how deeply mobile connectivity is working its way into our lives, and just how enthusiastically consumers are responding to the profound innovation it is making possible.
As the Federal Communications Commission takes a closer look at wireless, it’s important that it consider how consumers are actually embracing mobile connectivity in their diverse lives. And, it is imperative that the FCC acknowledge that all of this progress we celebrate now has taken place in—and been made possible in no small part by—the current light-touch regulatory framework.
The proof is in the numbers. As the mercury rises in the nation’s capital, it’s important that cooler heads prevail when it comes to the flexibility and dynamism that have truly connected the nation to the opportunities and innovation made possible by the mobile Internet.
This article was orginially published on Huffington Post.