Cellphone Numbers Overtake Land Lines

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Times Staff Writer

Hold the phone.

The number of mobile-phone users in the U.S. surpassed the number of conventional land-based phone lines in the second half of 2004, the government said Friday.

By the end of the year, there were 181.1 million cellphone subscribers, compared with 177.9 million access lines into U.S. homes and businesses, the Federal Communications Commission said in a biannual report.

“It was only a matter of time,” said analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research Inc. “We’ve been on this path for a number of years.”


A decade ago, the industry had 25 million customers, he said; it should pass 200 million this year.

“We’ve never had such a monumental shift in the way we select our communications,” said John Walls, spokesman for the cellular industry’s trade group, CTIA.

The trend, spurred mainly by young people who have never paid for land-line service, is ingrained throughout all age segments, Golvin said.

So ingrained, in fact, that customers in nearly a third of North American households make at least half their long-distance calls at home from their cellphones rather than their more reliable and often cheaper land lines, he said.

About 6% of phone customers have cut the cord to go entirely wireless, Golvin said.

Fay Ray decided not to get a home phone after moving from Los Angeles two years ago to attend Columbia University in New York.

Still, she regards her cellphone as a “necessary evil.”

“You’re getting charged so much for cellphones that there’s no more money left for anything else.”