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Dramatic uptick in mobile usage signals need for more spectrum

Broadcasters continue to raise questions about a looming spectrum crisis in the United States, however, a new study now finds that half of all adults in the nation are using mobile devices to access the Internet; and that number is steadily increasing.

Conducted in March and April by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the survey found that about 88 percent of those surveyed reported owning a cell phone as of April, up from 83 percent last year. Of those phone owners, just over half said they use their phones often to access the Internet and just under a third said a cell phone was is their primary way of getting online.

Seventeen percent of cell phone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device. Most do so for convenience, but for some their phone is their only option for online access.

The report refers to individuals who use wireless Internet access “cell internet users” and said they represent a notable increase from the 31 percent of cell owners who said that they used their phone to go online as recently as April 2009.

Moreover, 31 percent of these current cell Internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. That works out to 17 percent of all adult cell owners who are “cell-mostly internet users”—that is, who use their phone for most of their online browsing.

The study highlighted mobile access as a way for companies and government to reach citizens, Aaron Smith, who wrote the report, told IDG News Service. “Accessing a service through a four-inch screen is very different to accessing through a 20-inch screen,” he noted.

The study found that nearly half of all young adults from 18 to 29-years-old use their phones for the majority of online browsing, while African Americans are twice as likely to do so as whites (51 percent vs. 24 percent). About 41 percent of Latino users report using mostly phones for online access.

Users with a household income below $50,000 and those who have not graduated from college are also more likely to turn to cell phones for most of their online access.

A small minority of those using cell phones mostly or exclusively to get online said they do so because they have no PC (six percent) or because they have no other Internet access (four percent).

The survey questioned 2,254 adults age 18 and over, including 903 interviews conducted on the respondent’s cell phone. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.