Cell Phones Are Becoming the Only Phones for More Americans

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control is confirming what AT&T, Verizon and other telecom companies have known for some time: An increasing number of people are dependent on cell phones alone. For places such as the CDC and other companies that conduct surveys, this is a distressing trend that forces them to rely on random calls to a shrinking number of landlines.

In the District of Columbia, 25.4 percent of adults relies solely on wireless phones, according to the latest National Health Interview Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of households and adults without landlines is on the rise - a worrisome fact for survey organizations, such as the CDC, which fears the voices of this demographic are going unrepresented.
"Many of our largest surveys are done on calls to landline phone numbers. All of those adults with only cell phones are being missed in these surveys," said Stephen J. Blumberg, the lead author of the study.
Every six months, the NHIS presents national and regional estimates concerning the size and characteristics of the wireless-only population in America. Its most recent report shows that during the first half of 2008, one in six homes (17.5 percent) only had wireless telephones. In 2007, wireless-only households accounted for 14.7 percent of U.S. households.
Results varied substantially across states. State levels ranged from 5.1 percent of households in Vermont to 26.2 percent in Oklahoma. Results also varied when measured by adults, rather than households.
"National estimates suggest that adults living in metropolitan areas are more likely to live in wireless-only households than adults living in nonmetropolitan areas," states the report. What's a phone survey company to do?
"We'll have to figure out a way for people to opt in to such things," said Philippe Winthrop, a director in the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, in an interview with eWEEK.
"How long ago was it that Alexander Graham Bell first did his thing? Mobile phones have only been available to consumers in a mass-market way for about 15 years. That's nothing! There's still a lot to be learned and figured out."
"And the reality is," he adds, that if you're paying $50, on average, for a landline, and another $50 for a cellular contract, you can get an unlimited mobile phone for $100, and chances are you don't even need an unlimited contract. There's no question that for a portion of the population, there's no need for a fixed line anymore."
As the economic situation remains bleak into 2009, the challenges facing telephone survey companies may become heightened, as more people cancel their landlines in acts of belt-tightening.