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Cellphone-only use rising steadily

Customers ditching their landlines, especially those with lower incomes

- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

America's abandonment of the landline phone in favor of the cellphone is accelerating, but nowhere has it gone further than in Arkansas and Mississippi. The states where the smallest proportion of people depend solely on wireless phones and no landlines: New Jersey and Rhode Island.

About 35 percent of adults in Arkansas and Mississippi have cellphones but not traditional wired telephones, according to estimates released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey and Rhode Island, that figure is only 13 percent.

"The answer's obvious. No one has money here," said John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Mississippi who has broad experience in the telecommunications industry. "If they can do without a landline, they'll do it to save money."

That matches the conclusion of Stephen Blumberg, a senior CDC scientist and an author of the survey. Over the years, Mr. Blumberg has found that lower-income people are more likely than the better off to have only a cellphone. Younger people and renters are also among the quickest to shed traditional landlines and use only wireless phones.

"They're not a young state, and they're a wealthy state, and that's keeping New Jersey at the bottom of the list" of states whose residents rely exclusively on cellphones, Mr. Blumberg said.

The latest state-by-state figures, which cover the 12 months through June 2010, are significant. They may mean that changes are needed in how some public opinion polls are conducted, Mr. Blumberg said.

As the use of cellphones has grown in recent years, major pollsters routinely have included cellphone users in the people they call randomly. The number of cellphone numbers they call reflects national cellphone use, but this study suggests that those numbers may need to be adjusted in states with especially high or low cellphone dependence, he said.

In eight states in addition to Arkansas and Mississippi - mostly in the West - at least 30 percent of adults rely strictly on cellphones. They are Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas.

At the low end, only six states join New Jersey and Rhode Island in having less than 17 percent of adults use only cells: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

In Washington, D.C., 27.7 percent of households were wireless-only in 2010; in Virginia, it was 21.2 percent and in Maryland, 18.4 percent.

The exclusive use of cellphones has been growing steadily nationwide, hitting 27 percent of U.S. households in the first half of 2010, an eightfold increase in just six years.

The latest figures showed that the proportion of adults using only cellphones has grown in all 50 states since 2007. Arkansas has had the greatest increase, 15 percentage points, while New Jersey's 7 percentage-point growth brings up the rear.

"That's not surprising to me," Charles Golvin, a telecommunications analyst with the market research firm Forrester Research Inc., said of the coast-to-coast growth. He said people across the country are facing challenges with the weak economy. "It's personal; you know if it's right for you," he added.

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