There are some 93.3 million broadband subscriptions in service in the United States in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Broadband Forum. And it is possible those figures both overstate and understate actual broadband penetration. The “overstate” could occur if business accounts are included in the tallies. The “understate” would occur because those surveys do not seem to include mobile broadband, used by a significant and possibly growing number of households.
If all those Broadband Forum subscriptions were purchased by consumers (they probably aren’t, as business accounts might be tallied separately by many of the service providers), one might hypothesize that broadband access penetration were as high as 83 percent.
That would use some reasonable but possibly too-optimistic assumptions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were in 2010 about 131 million U.S. housing units. If you assume 660,000 new units get added every year, that would suggest about 131.7 million units.
About 112 million of those units are occupied on a full-time basis. So assume the potential market for fixed network broadband access consists of 112.6 million units. For the sake of simplicity, ignore any units that prefer to use wireless access.
But not all broadband access accounts are sold to consumers.
Still, some estimates peg U.S. household penetration of broadband access between 82 percent and 84 percent, so 83 percent would not be unusual.
Keep in mind that use of the Internet might be something of interest to 79 percent of U.S. households, since some households do not own computers, or own computers but do not use the Internet. In a growing percentage of cases, people also use their smart phones as the primary way of using the Internet.
Nearly half of all adults (47 percent) go online with a laptop using a Wi-Fi connection or mobile broadband card (up from the 39 percent who did so as of April 2009) while 40 percent of adults use the internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone (up from the 32 percent of Americans who did this in 2009), the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in 2010.
Since then, mobile Internet access has grown, especially among minority Americans. When asked what device they normally use to access the internet, 25 percent of all smart phone owners say that they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a computer.
While many of these individuals have other sources of online access at home, roughly one third of these “cell mostly” Internet users lack a high-speed home broadband connection, Pew researchers say.
In other words, about eight percent of broadband users might rely exclusively on mobile broadband (a third of the respondents who “mostly” rely on mobile broadband).
If you assume the 83 percent broadband adoption figure is correct, and add eight percent more “mobile only” users, then it is possible broadband access now is purchased by 91 percent of households.