Have you ever left your cell phone at home and felt like your world was incomplete simply because you didn’t have it on you? For many Americans, their cell phone is more than likely a necessity rather than a luxury, especially for African Americans. The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently found that 88% of U.S. adults own a cell phone. As of February 2012, around 90% of African Americans owned a cell phone and 51% use their cell phone to do most of their online browsing. It’s a proven fact that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to use their mobile devices compared to their white counterparts. With the expanding digital divide, it is important for the African American voice to be heard when it comes to cell phone access and usage.
MyWireless.org recently developed and conducted a bipartisan national survey of 1,000 adult wireless phone users, who are likely voters. The purpose of the survey was to evaluate how satisfied consumers are with their cell phone, their opinions in regards to new regulations on wireless services, and their opposition to adding new wireless taxes and fees. Nine in ten (91%) of wireless phone consumers remain highly satisfied with their wireless phone service. The plurality of wireless phone users said that having a wireless phone is more important to them than having broadband internet, cable/satellite television, or a home landline phone. In fact, one-third of users doesn’t have a home landline phone and only use their wireless phone. More than three quarters of users considered their wireless service to be an essential service in their everyday life including 86% of African American users.
When it comes to wireless taxes and fees, there remains a significant lack of awareness about how much consumers actually pay in taxes and fees on their monthly wireless phone bills. One quarter didn’t know what they pay in taxes and fees. While most consumers estimated they pay less than 15%, the national average is actually 17.1%. 9 in 10 consumers surveyed believed the tax rate should be the same or less than the taxes they pay on general goods and services. This sentiment was reflected across political affiliations. Nearly three-quarters favored imposing a 5-year freeze on all new wireless taxes and fees. In fact, by a 4 to 1 ratio, a clear majority supports Congress continuing the moratorium on taxing access to the Internet.
When it comes to cell phone usage, African Americans clearly lead their counterparts. Other than making or receiving voice calls, texting is the most popular wireless phone feature followed by the Internet, taking pictures, and email. The top cell phone apps used by wireless consumers are social networking, weather, GPS/maps, news/politics, and banking/finance. Approximately 3 in 10 consumers use their wireless phone to access or manage personal information such as bank accounts, membership accounts, passwords, bills or statements. When it comes to privacy and parental controls, African Americans are very cautious. Protecting personal data, communications, and transactions and having options to allow or block ads, marketing calls, and spam remain the most important privacy issues. This is clearly important since four in five of the consumers reported that their children got their first cell phone between the ages of 9 and 15, with 47% giving their children their first cell phone between the ages of 9 and 12. In addition, three in five parents with children who have a cell phone are well aware of the parental controls offered by wireless companies, with a majority are aware of the free emergency, weather, and AMBER alerts offered. In addition, to cell phone usage, African Americans are eco-friendly and continue to recycle or donate their wireless phone and accessories. As cell phone access and usage continues to expand, there should be a continued discussion on how this valued treasure impacts the African American community.