UTA Magazine
Can you hear me now?
Many young adults are cutting their home phone lines

Choosing wireless over fixed-line telephone service was a no-brainer for alumnus Dustin Rawlings.

“I really didn’t have to think much about making the change,” said the 27-year-old exercise and sport studies graduate. “My friends and family called on my cellphone, and I wasn’t at home enough to use the home phone.”

According to research by economics Associate Professor Michael Ward, Rawlings is among a growing number of 18- to 30-year-olds who are severing the cord.

A fascination with telecommunication issues led Dr. Ward to delve into wireless phone usage. He discovered that wireless ownership increased from 40 percent of Americans in 1999 to 55 percent only two years later. And although the majority of wireless phone users continue to subscribe to a fixed-line service, many young adults had traded in their fixed-line setups.

Ward’s research revealed that many wireless users under age 30 received cellular phones as teenagers. Along with the Internet, cellphones became their main communication tools with friends and family. As these 18- to 30-year-olds moved on to college or out of their parents’ house, paying for a land line didn’t make sense.

Those who continued to subscribe to a fixed-line service cited shaky cellular quality and reliability as reasons. Fixed lines are more dependable compared to the dropped calls, dead zones and voice-fade problems associated with cellphones, but the majority liked the mobility and convenience of wireless.

In the 1990s, security was the primary reason consumers subscribed to cellphone service, Ward said. “There are some wireless benefits that can’t be measured—things like being able to respond to Amber alerts and to make roadside emergency calls.”

His research revealed that consumers increased their wireless usage as services and coverage areas expanded and prices decreased. During the timeframe studied, households with multiple wireless phones increased from about a third to half the population while average usage minutes per household more than doubled.

Ward’s research focused on the extent to which wireless telephone usage encroached on local phone service. He discovered that wireless most affected the long-distance services provided by local carriers since wireless packages include “free long distance.”

As an economist, Ward has concentrated on competition issues in the high-technology communications industry. His interest began when competition was considered evil and destructive to “Ma Bell,” before regulators embraced deregulation. Along with associate Glenn Woroch of the University of California, Berkeley, Ward conducted the wireless phone usage research using TNS Telecom data.

They concluded that wireless phone usage will continue to increase as quality and service packages improve. Eventually, wireless will be a formidable competitor to fixed-line services. Still, a few basic things must happen to experience the usefulness of a cellphone.

“ A cellphone only works,” Ward said, “if you have it with you and turned on.”

— Kim Pewitt-Jones

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