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Smartphones are the gateway to the internet for one-fifth of adults in America

Smartphones are the gateway to the internet for one-fifth of adults in America

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Here's a narrative you've probably heard from net neutrality advocates: mobile broadband providers should be held to the same rules as wired broadband companies, because people are increasingly relying on smartphones as their only access point to the internet. That's especially true in developing countries where "the internet" is practically indistinguishable from Facebook's mobile app, but according to new data from the Pew Research Center, it's also true of adults in the United States — as many as one-fifth of them.

Pew's survey, conducted in October of 2014, asked adults if they didn't have high-speed internet service at home and if they didn't have many options other than their phones for getting online. Nineteen percent of respondents said they met at least one of those conditions, and 7 percent said they both lack broadband internet access and have limited options for getting online outside of their smartphone. That's a big deal when you consider how much of a pain it can be to get anything done over a mobile connection sometimes; 49 percent of respondents said content they tried to view on their phone doesn't display properly at least occasionally, 36 percent said they hit their data caps, and 47 percent reported that bad connections at least occasionally prevent them from using their phones.

The mobile broadband situation is racially and economically biased

As we've pointed out before, the mobile broadband situation in the US is racially and economically biased: if you're young, poor, or non-white, you're more likely to rely on your smartphone for internet access. Pew's latest study found that 15 percent of Americans between ages 18–29 are "heavily dependent" on a smartphone for internet access, that 13 percent of Americans whose households bring in less than $30,000 per year depend on smartphones (compared to just 1 percent of those from households earning more than $75,000 a year), and that only 4 percent of whites depend on their smartphones to get online, compared to 12 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Latinos.

With Americans increasingly using smartphones as their primary gateway to the internet, the rules that govern mobile broadband will only become more important. So it's a good thing there's already a revolution happening in mobile internet policy.