back to article Peak Cable looms: One in five US homes now mobile-only for internet

The number of American households relying solely on mobile networks for internet access has doubled over the past two years. This is according to Uncle Sam's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) who says that its 2015 internet usage numbers show that 20 per cent households use mobile networks …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    long live cutting the cord

    One time outlay of $200 to $300 for Rokus and digital antennae for the whole house means no more signing a contract requiring you rent equipment (go luck counting on government for that one) and being forced to give $8+ a month to ESPN which go to indirectly pay for the lifestyles of violent wife beaters. Priceless.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: long live cutting the cord

      Also when true a la carte does finally come to cable (soon I am guessing based on headlines like these), those with cable can thank the cord cutters for making it so. Also it won't be long before every major cable channel goes like Starz already has and offers an subscription internet only option not requiring cable. Ultimately the consumer votes with his pocketbook and in the long run gets what is wanted (crony capitalism aside which is what setup these stupid non common carrier cable monopolies in the first place and greatly delayed the inevitable).

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Ala carte

        Ala carte will never come to cable, the numbers don't work because they would have to sell you individual channels for far more than you'd likely be willing to pay.

        For instance ESPN charges your cable company over $6 per subscriber because it is included in most people's plans. If only the 1/3 or so of homes who actually watch it regularly wanted it, they'd have to charge closer to $20 - but at that price they'd have fewer interested subscribers, so they'd have to charge even more than that. Channels like AMC are closer to a buck a month, but again they'd have to charge $5/month or more if it was only paid for by those who watch it. And these are what your cable company is paying in volume, before they mark it up to you.

        If ala carte ever did arrive, over 90% of channels would disappear because they couldn't pay their running costs. You might say "who cares" because you'd think about all the garbage that's on but undoubtedly a few channels you like would be amongst those culled.

        Be careful what you wish for...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. That_Guy

          Re: Ala carte

          Let them fail.

          There will still be a market for cable, there well still be an infrastructure. Therefore restructuring however slowly is inevitable.

          A base administration cost of $10 plus $1/channel may well come faster than you think. Also the right to buy your own box.

          The only thing that needs to change to accommodate this is the grotesque profits need to be slashed on all counts.

          Tbh most channels need to go. Do we really need 500 channels of cruft? I'd put money on the notion that most people watch a small subset of the available channels. Therefore I assert that we could in reality settle for 50 'decent' channels + on-demand for $30/mo. That or collapse to the likes of Amazon and Netflix. If Netflix were to launch a news program etc to round of their offering cable cutting would also push many more to abandon cable since there's still so many that don't/can't get local hd channels ota.

          1. Bob Dole (tm)

            Re: Ala carte

            >>Therefore I assert that we could in reality settle for 50 'decent' channels ....

            3. The number of "necessary" channels is 3. Three was good enough for my parents and by golly it's good enough for me: iTunes, Netflix, Hulu.

            okay, okay, maybe 4 (Amazon) if I feel up to reconnecting the old Samsung blu-ray player instead of running the apple tv device... but my frustration with Samsung's device "quality" is so low that I can't be bothered more than once every few months.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Re: Ala carte

              Why would popular channels EVER accept only $1/month ala carte? This would be a huge revenue decline for them, you can wish all you want but the only channels that would accept a mere $1/month would be the least popular 400 of those 500 channels. The ones you might actually want to watch like AMC, Syfy, Disney, FX, Discovery, FNC, etc. would never accept such a low rate on ala carte terms. NEVER.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Ala carte

            "Do we really need 500 channels of cruft?"

            A lot of those crufty 500 channels are paying to be on the network because they make their costs back selling you stuff or from donations, or just from running so many adverts. They are subsidising the "good" channels who have the power over the network such that the network pays them to be allowed to carry it.

      2. Nate Amsden

        Re: long live cutting the cord

        it's funny people still think that ala carte services will end up costing less than bundling. As time goes on though more and more are realizing bundling is what saves money (few edge exceptions - e.g. if you are satisfied with the content that Netflix has to offer and just use that for example, though I read increasing comments on people who feel like they have to subscribe to a half dozen or more streaming services to get what they want and that services seem to be fragmenting more as time goes on).

        I'm older school I guess. my Tivos have curated (to some degree) what I have been watching on cable TV for the past 16 years now, it's a system I am satisfied with at least. I probably "stream" less than 10 minutes of video a month (generally youtube), haven't streamed music since the late 90s.

        I'd say get off my lawn but my apartment doesn't have one.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. That_Guy

          Re: long live cutting the cord

          If referring to the current à la carte offerings we have where individual producers try to gouge for ~$10/mo then yes: à la carte is more expensive.

          What most allude to is a cable system that allows you to pick channels for far less than an individual sub. So in that context a resounding No.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: long live cutting the cord

      Holy shit I guess I should have read the article. Cutting the cord for me still means $35 monthly cut rate DSL. Wireless seems like a pretty dumb way to reduce costs at least in the US.

      1. joed

        Re: long live cutting the cord

        It's a dumb way if one was to continue with previous browsing habits. It does make sense if one can limit their usage. Mobile data plan seems a necessity today (voice only next to impossible to get nowadays) while stationary Internet access is luxury (and extra spend some can't afford). The same thing has happened to landline and cell phones before. Not there yet myself, but if Comcast has given me another reason (I'm down to Economy Internet) I'll reconsider my options.

        On the bright side, once the cord is cut the risk of my box turning overnight into Windows 10 zombie is nill;)

    3. Lee Mulcahy

      Re: long live cutting the cord

      The article is talking about internet, not cable TV shows. Or at least that's the way I read it. Am I living in the past? Although I do use internet for some streaming, I mostly use it for browsing activities.

      And my wired internet is much cheaper and more reliable than the 3G/4G mobile links. I don't understand how anybody would be satisfied with mobile only.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: long live cutting the cord

        AFAIK, a lot of people in the US got cabled internet through cable TV infrastructure - one that is in the hands of the TV company itself. Very different situation than that in areas where cable TV never became widespread and cabled Internet means xDSL or even fiber over a telco infrastructure, that may even be outside the hands of the telco provider, making switching provider far easier - and usually you can use your own router without being forced to pay a rent for proprietary boxes.

        It's also no surprise poorer household are those that ditched the cable connection in greater number, but I guess also in some areas actually mobile connection can outperform fixed ones until many old copper cables are replaced by fiber.

  2. inmypjs Silver badge

    Does not compute

    We being told we all need super fast broadband while 1/5th of Americans elect to go mobile only with monthly data caps which would last 10 minutes at super fast speeds.

    Wonder what figures in the UK are like? For light internet users I can see the attraction in getting rid of the extortionate openreach line rental.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does not compute

      Yep wireless internet (some plans aside) is one of the few ways in the US to make having Netflix only cost far more than cable.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does not compute

      "Wonder what figures in the UK are like?"

      Most new households that are formed in the UK don't take a wired service, either from Virgin or from a telco using Openreach lines.

      It must make it difficult to build a case for investment and might be why BT bought EE - if the trend continues it could end up as a survival issue for telcos without a wireless network.

  3. ma1010 Silver badge

    Mobile at home is likely a bad idea in the long run

    The problem here is that there is only so much radio spectrum available. We're pushing up into the TeraHertz realm nowadays, but it's still short-sighted to tie wireless spectrum up streaming movies and TV to people in their homes.

    Of course, people are doing what is cheapest and works for them NOW. Given the current market dynamics, it makes sense to cut your cable and go with mobile. However, as we run out of mobile spectrum because we are using it to stream entertainment to people in their homes, we're going to see a major shift, either through higher fees for mobile access (most likely) or possibly government intervention to keep spectrum from getting clogged up with data for which there are reasonable alternatives that don't involve broadcast spectrum.

    This would be even more true if we can ever get fiber laid to where we need it. Even though I live in a large city in California, my choices are to use slow DSL (which I do), mobile data (and blow out my "fast" allocation in a week or so and then be stuck with 3G or slower speeds the rest of the month), or pay through the nose for Comcast cable. There is no cable or fiber competition, of course. And with more people jumping on the "mobile data for streaming at home" bandwagon, there won't be any motivation for the carriers to lay cable or fiber -- until the crunch comes, at which time they will be laying cable and fiber -- at nosebleed prices. But by then it will be either the cheapest or only game in town for home consumption.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Mobile at home is likely a bad idea in the long run

      Deploying a capillary cabled infrastructure won't be helped by competition. Competition alone will mean you will be able to choose among ten competitors in Manhattan, and zero in other areas.

      Companies will only go where they see a lot of money, and stay away from where the ROI is below their targets - especially if net neutrality neuters their ambitions to charge more for specific uses, and the only one who really see big money are the content providers (I like net neutrality, but I understand the impact it may have about investing in some areas).

      If we believe the network infrastructure is of primary importance, almost a "right", then a different approach need to be followed. Look at what happened when pure competition was left to decide about the mobile phone infrastructure in the US: the result was incompatible networks using different technologies, which slowed down coverage diffusion.

  4. AndrueC Silver badge

    I can't see it being sustainable. There's only so much radio frequency bandwidth available and at present everyone within range of the mast has to share it. I know that it's possible to focus transmission into spot beams - could a mobile phone mast do the same with each consumer having their own spot?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Might be me, but I suspect that it has less to do with liking wireless and more to do with despising local broadband monopolies in the states.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      That, and the "doubling" is from f*ck-all to b*gger-all, and it is apparently mostly happening in households where the cost of two connections rather than one is felt most keenly.

  6. Oengus


    Meanwhile in the land of the antipodes it s unlikely that people will be able to switch entirely to mobile internet while the telcos charge exorbitant rates for mobile data. Let me see you keep up to date with the live NRL or AFL matches on a 10Gb per month plan (extra data available for $10 per Gb).

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Downunder

      "Let me see you keep up to date with the live NRL or AFL matches on a 10Gb per month plan (extra data available for $10 per Gb)."

      Same here in the UK. If your only internet use is Twatface and the odd cat video, maybe mobile will do. If you want to keep up with EastCorryNeighbours then it's cost a hell of a lot more than a cable or DSL connection.

  7. Herbert Meyer

    Lucky me !

    I am lucky enough to live in an area with an independent broadband provider, I have a 5 gHz wifi antenna on my roof, pointed at a local water tower. I still have cable for TV, but have cut my bill in half by unbundling internet and phone service.

    The cable company has responded by increasing basic cable rates. Good move fellas, that will make your remaining customers real happy.

  8. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Poor people have poor choices

    I think it's easy to see how many poorer people will shift to mobile data exclusively. The shift to smartphones is nearly universal and having a phone is important to live in today's society. It's cheaper to up ones data plan on the phone than to have a phone bill AND an internet/TV bill.

    For consumers, a digital life that is all wireless and mobile devices will work. As a creator, I need the bandwidth that cable can provide and a real keyboard and mouse. There are many more consumers than creators so it's unsurprising that wired internet providers may see their subscriber numbers drop. The same holds for satellite internet providers. It's wireless, but the kit would be unwieldy to move around.

    If TV moves from SD/HD to 4k, cellular wireless won't be able to cope with the load. I'm surprised to see people streaming HD content to their 6" screen thinking it a waste of bandwidth. At some point wireless companies may need to rein in their data allowances once again to keep from having to deploy many more towers in larger cities where the cost to lease the space will get stupid really fast.

    Cable companies may have to start going ala carte. While ESPN may be demanding $6/subscriber now, there is no way that they can raise that to $20/subscriber. They will have to figure out a way to survive at $1-$2 with fewer viewers or lose out to an organization that can. Lots of channels will die, but I don't see that as a bad thing. There used to be some really good stuff on the telly, but now it seems most of those channels have gone to cheap-to-produce reality shows that are all just a crowd of pinheads shouting obscenities at each other. Cooking shows have gone to bizarre extremes too where there is less cooking and more forcing the other chef to try and cook with their pans cut in half or other obstacle. Allowing customers to choose the channels that are most important to them will let the market place vote on what's important and what's not.

    It will always be possible to push more data down a wire than over the air. It's also more secure to be wired.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Poor people have poor choices

      Another reason for this is that cable plans require commitments - if you have to move because your job changes then moving or cancelling your cable subscription is a hassle and can be expensive with all those early termination fees bundled in so it makes much more sense to go with a mobile phone plan.

      Also cable / DSL etc is a city thing - once you get out to the rural areas in the US your only option for an internet connection is cell phone service if you are lucky or dial-up. Typically in the country, if you can get a signal from the cell tower you can get about 2-3Mbs with a cell phone for around $60 a month - that's about the same a basic cable.

  9. ultimate_noobie

    Mobile at least gives you a choice

    As someone living in the rural US, I can tell you the reason several of my neighbors have gone mobile only: Choice. There is only 1 internet service provider and out here, the speeds are 1/3 the advertised price at the best of times. For the same amount per month, most folks can go with a data only package and so long as they keep streams to SD, pretty much make it through the month without additional charges. If they switch off to providers with a high speed allocation and a low speed unlimited throttle, then they are fine enough to continue watching cat videos and checking emails to their hearts content. Truthfully, if I didn't need at least a semi stable connection to remote into work, I'd probably do something similar given that physical line's quality has not ever been resolved but the price has gone up twice.

  10. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    It's because US broadband sucks

    In the US it may make sense to switch from wired broadband to mobile, because the cost of wired Internet is so high, and/or the speeds so low in comparison of what we are used to in Europe that it makes sense. The average American would drool at the speed and price of broadband that is available to 70% of the population of (e.g.) Romania.

    It's what happens when you are "first". You get the crappy early technology while latecomers start from scratch with more mature technology. America were the first to introduce nationwide colour TV, and ended up having to suffer NTSC for the following decades while most of the rest of the World used PAL or SECAM.

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