Mobile device and date use skyrockets, US gov't survey says

US residents are increasingly using mobile phones for downloading, email and other apps, the NTIA says

This smartphone thing may finally be catching on.

U.S. mobile phone users are "rapidly embracing" smartphones and tablets, noted a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The report, however, is based on 2-year-old information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, the latest NTIA survey of U.S. residents' Internet and computer use shows some important trends and gives U.S policy makers "some valuable insights," said John Morris, director of Internet policy at the NTIA.

The biggest changes in NTIA surveys run between July 2011 and October 2012 were in mobile phone use, he said.

"Mobile devices are really heading toward ubiquity across all demographics," Morris said. "It does appear that mobile devices are really helping to close the digital divide. They're certainly not a total answer, but we really are significant penetration for mobile devices."

The survey found that 88 percent of all U.S. residents age 25 and older used mobile phones. Mobile phone use among rural U.S. residents grew by 5 percentage points between July 2011 and October 2012, to 85 percent.

Mobile phone use increased 4 percentage points among people with family incomes below US$25,000 -- 73 percent to 77 percent -- and also among people with disabilities -- 68 percent to 72 percent.

The survey found large numbers of mobile phone users moving toward using Web-based applications. The percentage of U.S. mobile phone owners over age 25 using their devices to download mobile applications increased from 22 percent to 32 percent over that 15-month period, and the percent of phone owners using the devices to check email increased from 33 percent to 43 percent.

The percentage of mobile phone owners rose by 9 percentage points to 42 percent during that time frame, and the percent of mobile phone users logging on to social networks increased by 8 percentage points to 30 percent, according to the survey.

Other survey results:

-- Seventy-two percent of U.S. households had broadband at home in October 2012, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2011. Computer use also grew by 3 percentage points, to 79 percent.

-- Two percent of households continued to rely on dial-up Internet service in 2012.

-- Between 2007 and 2012, home broadband use by people ages 65 and older rose from 32 percent to 47 percent.

-- Forty-eight percent of households without Internet access said the main reason was a lack of need or interest, the same percentage who gave that reason in 2011. Twenty-nine percent of respondents in 2012 said cost of service was the primary reason.

There's a delay in the NTIA reporting the numbers, because the Census Bureau is required to scrub personal information out of their survey before sharing the data, Morris said. The Census Bureau collected data from more than 53,000 U.S. households.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags mobile applicationsU.S. National Telecommunications and Information AdministrationJohn MorrismobileU.S. Census Bureaugovernmentinternet

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