fierce rivals agree on important issue at FCC

In Washington, no rivalry is mores strenuously fought than that between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. Nonetheless, last week Lonnie Sanders, Jr., of the Washington Redskins (ret.) and Mark Washington of the Dallas Cowboys (ret.) came together at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to express their strong, common support for FCC employees’ participation in the Combined Federal Campaign for charitable giving.

Both Sanders and Washington were star professional football players. After retiring from football, both went on to have amazing further careers.

Here’s a paragraph from Sanders’ biography:

In later years, Mr. Sanders formed the Jackson & Sanders Construction Company which focused on the rehabilitation of inner-city homes.  He acquired his District of Columbia Real Estate Broker’s License and served on the DC Board of Real Estate Equalization and Review.  He also served on the DC Board of Rehabilitation (transitioning incarcerated individuals back into society).  Through L. Sanders, Inc., he procured and shipped food products to the U.S. Department of Defense troop feeding centers.  He owns C&S Trading, LLC, an investment vehicle which exports grain and grain products (also serving as a consultant for like entities), and is a partner in the soon to be developed Southwest Waterfront.

Here’s a paragraph from Washington’s biography:

Upon retirement [from football] in 1980, he embarked on a 20+ year career in various technical sales and marketing positions with E.I. DuPont de Nemours in their Electronic Materials Division, followed by employment with Condea Vista Chemical Company.  He successfully conducted business throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Japan.  Later as his interest shifted to the on-line services industry, he served as the National Account Manager for a start-up online recruitment advertising firm, and later held a similar position with the American Chemical Society.  Most recently, he has served as the President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Football League Retired Players for the past four years.

Few communications industry leaders have as impressive a record of achievements as do Sanders and Washington.  But they can follow Sanders and Washington’s lead by sitting down together and agreeing on important issues before the FCC.

from telephone service to good Internet service

About a third of U.S. households still do not have have Internet access.  Among households with Internet access, about 7% have only dial-up Internet access.[1] Many households apparently do not appreciate the wealth of information and services that good Internet access offers.

Only about 5% of U.S. households, in contrast, do not have telephone service.[2]  Text messaging volumes are growing, while voice minutes are falling. Good Internet access can provide text messaging, voice communication, and many other services as well.  Nonetheless, telephone service is much more prevalent than Internet access.

Telephone service is still associated with a large amount of customer revenue.  U.S. residential telephone customers paid about $14 billion in 2008 for “toll” calls.[3]  That’s a decade after AT&T Wireless introduced its Digital One Rate Plan that obliterated the distinction between local and national calls. The cost difference between a local and national call is widely thought to be minimal.  But that distinction is still associated with a huge amount of customer revenue.

Internet adoption is accelerating in the U.S. From Oct. 2003 to Oct. 2007, the share of households with Internet access rose from 54.6% to 61.7%.  In Oct. 2009, the share had risen to 68.7%. [4]  Put differently, across four years from 2003, the share increased about seven percentage points.  The share increased the same amount subsequently in half the time.

The transition from telephone service to Internet service is inevitable, but it’s happening slowly and with great challenges to communications businesses.

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[1] FCC, Trends in Telephone Service (Sept. 2010), Chart 2.5 and Table 2.9.

[2] Id. Table 16.1.

[3] Id. Table 9.3.

[4] Id. Chart 2.5.

U.S. mobile phone use

According to Nielsen data, the average number of text messages per month that U.S. mobile phone users sent and received exceeded the average number of voice calls sent and received in the second quarter of 2007. Since then, texting has continued to increase, while voice calls have continued to fall.  Little disagreement exists about these general industry trends.

Reports differ concerning the average number of text messages and voice calls per U.S. mobile phone user per month. A recent Pew Internet survey (data for May 2010) found among adult cell phone users who use cell phone text messaging an average use of about 1,200 text messages per month.  Recently quoted Nielsen figures, plausibly interpreted, imply 27% less text messages per month.

Reports on the average number of voice calls per U.S. mobile phone user per month differ by more.  The same Pew survey found about  400 voice calls per U.S. mobile phone user per month.  Recently quoted Nielsen figures are about half that level.  CTIA data, in contrast, implies about 9% fewer calls per month than the Pew figure.  Non-answered and busy signal calls, as well as calls reaching an answering machine or voice mail, average roughly 30% of working cell-phone numbers called.  Different treatment of such calls may account for some of the difference between figures for average number of calls.

While texting has grown enormously over the past five years, the number of voice calls that U.S. mobile phone users make is still large. The best estimate, an average of 400 calls per month, amounts to about 13 calls per day. Moreover, in 2007, monthly wireless voice minutes were five times higher in the U.S. than in Europe. Even if U.S. voice minutes have fallen by 25% since then, the level is still nearly four times higher than in Europe.

The rise of text messaging points to different social features of different communication means.  An online newspaper article documenting the texting revolution includes a photo timeline of telephone use.  A video of three talking heads covering a subset of the information included in the article also accompanies that text.  Does the rise of short video point to a video revolution and a bright future for video calls?  Communicative value seems to depend on social details.  The social space of communication is a propitious space for product differentiation and innovation.

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Data: U.S. mobile phone users texts and voice calls per month data comparison (Excel version)

sleeping with a mobile phone

read carefully

According to the Wall Street Journal, the “percentage of adults [in the U.S.] who sleep with their cellphone” is 67% of men and 64% of women.  Shockingly grim nocturnal statistics!  Is there really this many nerds, work slaves, needy clingers, and devoted bureaucrats?

The Wall Street Journal’s figures come from a recent Pew Research Center report on cell phone use.  The Wall Street Journal essentially reproduced a table from the Pew report.[1]  The only table section that the Wall Street Journal omitted was a breakdown by household income.  Perhaps the Wall Street Journal isn’t interested in income distribution, or perhaps some editor thought readers might get confused by the figures.  The figures show that households with income less than $30,000 a year had the highest share of adults sleeping with their cell phone (73%).  As is conventional practice among elite media from the print era, the Wall Street Journal did not link to the Pew report.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the Pew report have grossly misrepresented the figures.  The table in the Pew report is headed “who sleeps with their cell phone?”  An excellent feature of Pew Research Center reports is that they provide considerable documentation on data collection methods and instruments. This Pew report includes an appended list of the survey questions and summary statistics analyzed in the report. The question reported as “who sleeps with their cell phone?” comes from the last listed question: “Have you ever experienced or done any of the following? [emphasis added]”  The relevant yes/no response is “Slept with your cell phone on or right next to your bed [emphasis added].”[2]  That’s not the position typically imagined from the phrase “sleeping with.” Many persons, especially younger persons, have at least once fallen asleep on their beds with their clothes on, with their wallets, keys, and cell phones in their pockets.  So, in reality, the statistic on “adults who sleep with their cell phone” is one-time yawner.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the Pew report are striving to attract readers.  That’s much better than striving to repel readers.  Some sensationalism is excusable if an author also provides a good opportunity for an interested reader to understand well the relevant data.  The Pew report did that.  The Wall Street Journal didn’t.

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[1] See the graphic at the end of Katherine Rosman, “Y U Luv Texts, H8 Calls,” WSJ, Oct. 14, 2010.  Cf.  Amanda Lenhart, “Cell phones and American adults,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 2, 2010, p. 11.

[2] Lenhart (2010) p. 42.  An additional query item under this question is “Physically bumped into another person or object because you were distracted by talking or texting on your phone.” These survey items seems to be set in anticipation of media marketing effort.  Id. p. 2 is also keen to report, “Women tend to make slightly fewer calls with their cell phones than men [emphasis in original].”  Such a finding might help men not to feel inferior to women in social communication.  But the reality is that females are superior to males in social communicationNielsen data for persons ages 13-17 show that girls send and receive 60% more texts than boys and 43% more voice calls.  Adult communication statistics that confound communication for work and instrumental purposes with phatic, emotionally supportive, and presence-oriented communication obscure sex differences in communication.