Friday, May 08, 2009

20% of Americans Have Cut the Cord, Now Relying Only on Wireless Telephones

On May 6th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary results from the July - December 2008 National Health Interview Survey (“NHIS”) which indicate that the number of American homes with only wireless telephones continues to grow. More than one of every five American homes (20.2 percent) had only wireless telephones – not landline – during the second half of 2008, an increase of 2.7 percentage points since the first half of 2008. This is the largest six-month increase observed since NHIS began collecting data on wireless-only households in 2003.

In addition, one of every seven American homes (14.5 percent) received all or almost all calls on wireless telephones, despite having a landline telephone in the home. While state specific statistics were not included in the report, the percentage of wireless-only households in the Northeast trails most of the rest of the country, but still grew from 9.8 percent in the previous survey to 11.4 percent. In addition, nationwide, the percentage of households deemed “poor” (below the federal poverty level) or “near poor” (incomes of 100 percent to less than 200 percent of the poverty threshold) which are wireless-only jumped from 26 percent to 30.9 percent and 22.6 percent to 23.8 percent, respectively.

Keep in mind that important consumer protections for telephone customers, such as New York’s Telephone Fair Practices Act, do not apply to wireless users, because PSC jurisdiction over wireless service was conditionally suspended in 1997.

Voluntary wireless consumer protection guidelines have been created by the industry, but they have no teeth and are not enforceable. Utility regulators in other states have begun to exercise jurisdiction over terms and conditions of wireless telephone service as it has evolved from being a luxury extra phone to being the only phone relied upon by more and more customers.

The New York PSC has not made the finding, necessary under section 5.6 of the Public Service Law, that an end to the suspension of its jurisdiction over wireless service is needed "to protect the public interest." For more information on the status of wireless consumer protections in New York, and proposed legislative solutions, please visit PULP’s webpage on wireless telephone service.

Lou Manuta

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