Many N.D. households go cell phone-onlyDon Wick knew it was time to drop his landline phone three years ago when he learned his 75-year-old father-in-law had already gone wireless.
By: By Kristen M. Daum , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Don Wick knew it was time to drop his landline phone three years ago when he learned his 75-year-old father-in-law had already gone wireless.
“If cell-only was good enough for him, I couldn’t imagine why I needed a landline,” Wick said.
The Grand Forks resident is among nearly a third of North Dakota households who have traded a landline for a wireless-only world.
The modern trend continues to expand in North Dakota, which now has the fourth-highest proportion of cell phone-only households in the nation.
An annual national health survey released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 32.3 percent of North Dakota adult households without children exclusively used cell phones as of June 2010.
Add children into the equation, and North Dakota’s figure jumps to nearly 40 percent of all households using only cell phones.
Only Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi had a higher proportion of cell phone-only homes without children.
Minnesota’s proportions for cell phone vs. landline were about average compared to other states, with about a quarter of the adult population using only cell phones.
Across the United States, families are cutting the cord in an effort to also cut costs, experts said.
“The answer’s obvious. No one has money,” said John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Mississippi who has had broad experience in the telecommunications industry. “If they can do without a landline, they’ll do it to save money.”
The study’s author and senior CDC scientist Stephen Blumberg has found over the years that lower-income people are likelier than the better off to only have a cell phone.
Younger people and renters are also among the quickest to shed traditional landlines and use only wireless phones.
At the low end, eight states have less than 17 percent of adults who use only cell phones: New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
Only 15.6 percent of South Dakota adults used just cell phones, but on the flip side, more than half of the state’s households still kept ties to a landline.
The contrast between the neighboring Dakotas left North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark a little puzzled on Wednesday.
But he said there are likely valid reasons for the differences — and for North Dakota’s own high ranking.
For one, North Dakota has a higher college-age population, Clark said.
Younger generations have grown up with wireless and likely won’t even consider a landline once they’re on their own.
Also to North Dakota’s advantage is the natural landscape, Clark said.
“North Dakota is, in a sense, blessed in that we have a near perfect geography for wireless,” he said. “We’re relatively flat and there’s not a lot of foliage.”
South Dakota, in contrast, has the Black Hills — where a large portion of the state’s population resides.
“Big hills, mountains and leaves don’t exactly help in getting good wireless coverage,” Clark said. “We may just sort of be in this sweet spot.”
The exclusive use of cell phones has grown steadily nationwide, hitting 27 percent of U.S. households in the first half of 2010, an eightfold increase in six years.
The proportion of adults using only cell phones has grown in all 50 states since 2007, the survey said.
Blumberg told The Associated Press he was also somewhat surprised by the South Dakota figures, which differed significantly from nearby, similar states like North Dakota.
Steve Kolbeck, chairman of South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission, said he believes his state’s low reliance on cell phones reflected its vast rural areas, though nearby states have similar topography and a higher dependence on wireless phones.
“It really surprises me,” Kolbeck said. “For as mobile as people are in South Dakota and as remote as we are? I mean, everybody and their dog seems to have a cell phone, but they must be keeping their landline as that backup.”
In recent years, North Dakota government leaders have pushed for enhanced infrastructure to support wireless technology and broadband communication.
In 2010 alone, the state’s congressional delegation secured at least $45 million toward broadband projects in rural areas of North Dakota.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kristen Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.