Washington In a high-tech shift accelerated by the recession, the number of U.S. households opting for only cell phones has for the first time surpassed those that just have traditional landlines.
It is the freshest evidence of the growing appeal of wireless phones.
Twenty percent of households had only cells during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Wednesday. That was an increase of nearly 3 percentage points over the first half of the year, the largest six-month increase since the government started gathering such data in 2003.
The 20 percent of homes with only cell phones compared with 17 percent with landlines but no cells.
That ratio has changed in recent years: In the first six months of 2003, just 3 percent of households were wireless only, while 43 percent stuck with only landlines.
Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the CDC and an author of the report, attributed the growing number of cell-only households in part to a recession that has forced many families to scour their budgets for savings. People who live in homes that have only wireless service tend to be disproportionately low-income, young, renters and Hispanics.
“We do expect that with the recession, we’d see an increase in the prevalence of wireless only households, above what we might have expected had there been no recession,” Blumberg said.
Six in 10 households have both landlines and cell phones. Even so, industry analysts emphasized the public’s growing love affair with the versatility of cell phones, which can perform functions like receiving text messages and are also mobile.
“The end game is consumers are paying two bills for the same service,” said John Fletcher, an analyst for the market research firm SNL Kagan, referring to cell and landline phones. “Which are they going to choose? They’ll choose the one they can take with them in their car.”
In one illustration of the impact these changes are having, Verizon Communications Inc. had 39 million landline telephone customers in March 2008 but 35 million a year later. Over the same period, its wireless customers grew from 67 million to 87 million, though 13 million of the added lines came from the firm’s acquisition of Alltell Corp., according to Verizon spokesman Bill Kula.
Another Verizon spokesman, Eric Rabe, said he wasn’t sure the overall drop in landlines was related to the stalled economy, although he said the company has lost some landline business customers because companies are closing some of their locations.