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Technology

Our Readers Sound Off on Phones, Cable and Streaming

Though they find smartphones satisfying, many love their landlines, too


We’re always curious how our readers feel about, and use, technology. So, we recently conducted a survey sponsored by Consumer Cellular to find out. The results were more than a little surprising.

To be clear, the survey was more anecdotal than scientific. Some 6,570 people — 78% of them women, 76% between age 55 and 74, most with annual incomes below $75,000 — answered our questions about cellphones, landlines, using the Internet and subscribing to paid digital services from Netflix to Spotify.

In some cases, your responses echoed other surveys of the general public. For instance, 24% primarily access the internet on a cellphone (55% do it from a desktop or laptop computer; 21% via tablet). In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 27% of adults 50 to 64 said they mostly go online using a cellphone.

But in other cases, your views were widely different from Americans overall, especially younger Americans. Highlights:

Landline Phones

A full 57% of respondents said their homes have landline phones. That’s significantly more than the public at large. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 43% of adults live in households with wireless phone service only. And that percentage has been falling annually.

The No. 1 reason readers have landlines: “in case of emergency.”

“Older adults are more likely to still have landlines than younger adults,” Stephen Blumberg, director of the division of health interview statistics at the NCHS told me. “They’re more likely than younger people to own their homes and that’s a big reason why they’re more likely to have landlines.”

What’s more 40% of our survey respondents with landlines said they don’t think they’ll ever get rid of their landlines. The rest either thought they would or weren’t sure.

Why do so many Next Avenue readers keep their landlines? About half (47%) said they just like having them. But the No. 1 answer, from 60% of landline owners: “in case of emergency.” They believe that if power went out where they lived and cell phones didn’t work, their landlines still would.

As one survey respondent said: “Cellular is too unreliable to allow it to replace a landline phone for emergencies.”

But this belief in the power of landlines in an emergency may be overstated, according to Blumberg.

“They’re right if they’re talking about plain old phone service with the traditional copper line that comes into the home,” he said. “However, many of the landlines people have today are through their internet providers.” And the technology of the internet companies lacks the same reliability in a power outage as copper cables.

Still, Blumberg added, “in many areas of the country, emergency services are better able to pinpoint the location of a landline than a cellphone in an emergency.” But, he noted, “those differences are changing rapidly over time; more and more areas can pinpoint wireless phones quite effectively.”

Sometimes, survey respondents said, they saw no financial benefit in cutting the phone cord. “I tried to get rid of my landline a couple of years ago, but Century Link said it would cost the same for just internet,” said one. “So we kept the line, but we never use it — too many junk calls.”

Blumberg expects fewer and fewer Americans of all ages will have landlines in coming years. “I believe the landline phone will become extinct at some point,” he said. “But it may take another generation before that happens.”

Cellphones

Nearly all our survey respondents (98%) have mobile phones and 92% have smartphones. Most of the cellphone users (78%) feel the phones make them feel more connected to family and friends.

But they use the phones for much more than just talking. “I use my smartphone for just about everything related to communication,” said one survey respondent.

More than three-quarters of them said they do the following with the phones: read and send email; take photos; get driving directions and read news and information. Roughly 50% go on Facebook and other social networks with their phones. About a third use their phones to listen to audio and podcasts; watch videos; make or receive video calls and play games. But just 17% said their phones help them keep up with sports.

Some customers had gripes, though.

“With my aging eyes, it’s often hard to read content on my cellphone,” said one. “I live in a rural area and improvements to cellular and internet service is happening at a snail’s pace or non-existent,” said another.

The cellphone users were largely fine with the cost and quality of their providers’ service. Their average monthly cellphone bill is $54, which is quite a bit less than the national average of $73 a month. And only 49% felt their cellphone bills were costlier than they should be.

A striking 75% of Next Avenue cellphone users surveyed said they were pleased with their wireless providers. As it turns out, that’s identical to the general public. In the 2018-2019 American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) Wireless Service and Cellular Telephone Report, the customer satisfaction score was 75 out of 100.

Little wonder, then, that 67% of respondents are extremely loyal, having been with their current wireless provider for five years or longer.

When our readers were asked to rate wireless service providers for network reliability and customer service, Verizon came out on top — 37% rated it above average.

In the ACSI survey, Verizon Wireless also led its category of wireless providers for network quality. T-Mobile was tops in customer satisfaction among mobile network operators; Consumer Cellular was tops for consumer satisfaction among value mobile virtual network operators and Cricket Wireless led among full-service mobile virtual network operators.

Cable Television and Streaming Services

The vast majority of our survey respondents said they access television content in their home either though a cable or satellite service (70%) or a streaming service such as Netflix, Hulu or PBS Passport (57%). Just 20% have an over-the-air antenna and a bare 4% don’t watch television content.

Netflix and Amazon Prime were especially popular; just over 60% of respondents pay for those digital services. Some 38% pay for news sites. But 10% or fewer subscribe to digital services for music and audiobooks, like Pandora, Spotify and Audible.

Like many Americans, however, some of our readers wish their cable companies would give them more control over which cable channels they could receive. “The greatest dissatisfaction I have about cable service,” said one, “is that I cannot choose the channels I will watch.”

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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