Is The Internet Officially A Basic Utility Now?

    January 16, 2012
    Drew Bowling
    Comments are off for this post.

Winter seems to have finally remembered that it has somewhere to be this year – here – so it’s time to dig the space heater out of the closet and get your warm on. Or, at least, that’s what you’d expect people to do in light of the arrival of frigid climes but it turns out keeping the heat on might not be as high as it once was on the list of people’s priorities this winter.

Unless, that is, most people would prefer to huddle around their electronic devices to steal the warmth off of their over-worked processors because, given how people are spending their money on household services these days, that may be what they resort to this year.

How indispensable have your technology utilities – cell phones, Internet, etc. – become in your everyday life? How would you prioritize these expenses among traditional utilities like water, gas, and electricity? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section.

iYogi, a research initiative that examines the technology issues of today, has conducted a study that found that, among the 1100 people surveyed, 63% of people spend almost 35% more on technology bills than utility bills. For the purposes of this study, the services filed under the “technology bills” category are Internet Service Provider bills, mobile communication services, and multimedia services (cloud storage, subscriptions to Netflix-like services, etc.).

The importance of having a reliable Internet service in the home isn’t incredibly hard to grasp when you consider that “the average American home with two family members own as many as 7 IP devices.” Phones, tablets, laptops, online streaming services – these technological implements add up quickly. As you can imagine, the quantity of IP devices increases as the amount of household members grows. Households with 3 to 7 members may have upwards of 11 IP devices. That the quantity of devices doesn’t increase commensurately with the amount of household members suggests that some of these IP devices are likely shared, the Internet (since you can connect multiple devices onto one wireless network).

iYogi explains how the constantly increasing inventory of PCs, tablets, printers, scanners, cameras, and digital music players “is driving a new consumer demand for tech support services.” Add to the mix “smart phones, gaming devices, and Internet-enabled televisions and set top boxes are becoming a critical part of the home.”

Indeed we are in the thick of the digital age, so now that American households are beginning to fully weave Internet and mobile communication into their everyday lives in such dedicated ways, have online services become as necessary as water and electric utilities? Considering how many households have become seemingly dependent on the Internet, it looks like it could shape up that way.

Perhaps the biggest aspect to consider now that Americans are wired to the teeth these days is: how much is all of this costing us? iYogi says that “the average monthly expense [on mobile services] was found to be $94.” Add to that the average $19 per month that people fork over to download games, apps, music and the like and you’ve turned a pricey bill into a more pricey bill. As you can imagine, “the increasing popularity of mobile devices including smartphones and tablets is only likely to see increased spendings on mobile communication in the future.”

And then there’s the actual ISP bill. iYogi found that 58% of people can spend anywhere between $20 and $180 on monthly ISP service bills. (An aside: it’s probably not surprising that people would spend a lot of money on their Internet service, but that’s a really big range of expense. That’s like the difference between saying “I want to eat one hot dog for lunch” and “I want to win the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.” But I digress.) While the cost of subscribing to an ISP will depend on the data plan, the sum of money spent inflates as you include Internet-based services like Netflix. Corroborating what we have previously reported, this change in habit “has seen TV take a backseat as an entertainment medium.”

As if the technology tab wasn’t high enough, now people are beginning to pay for yet another service: cloud-based storage. While 30% of people currently spend an average of $10 per month for cloud services, iYogi expects this figure “is only going to increase as comfort levels with these new services go up.”

So given all of this habituated use of online services, is it valid to say that the Internet is an essential utility – at least inside of what iYogi describes as “digital homes” – as opposed to an elective commodity? Granted, nobody needs the Internet to stay alive the way they need heat to cook their food or water to drink and bathe. But people, I’d argue, have re-created the Internet as a need insofar it has become the linchpin of our communication infrastructure.

And it’s not as if people have recently realized they have stacks of extra cash laying around and decided to get themselves a Home 2.0. I don’t think you can make the case that people have more expendable income because economic growth has been near-flatlining in the United States for several years now. There’s been a nudge of economic recovery in the past year or so, but hardly enough to generate enough excess income in American households where they can spend the money on “superfluous” amenities like smartphones and high-speed Internet.

It’s not that people want the Internet anymore; more and more, people need the Internet.

Whether technology finds a space in an updated version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs doesn’t matter: people are increasingly becoming dependent upon the Internet. And given how integrated the Internet is to our lives, a lack of it would drastically change the way we live these days. Sure, some bugbears will contest this notion with antiquated protests like, “We were getting along fine before the Internet so we can easily do without it now.” That’s true, we were doing fine, but we were also getting along fine before indoor plumbing, penicillin, and a national highway system but does anybody truly want to return to a way of life when those now-standard amenities don’t exist? I doubt it. It’s not about the bare minimum of resources on which humans can continue to survive – it’s about what improves the quality of life.

As for the future, iYogi doesn’t foresee the proliferation of Internet-enabled households slowing down anytime soon, so again, at what point does the Internet become a necessity and less of a luxury? Could you go without the Internet these days or is it as necessary as warm water and reliable light sources? Do you see the prevalence of Internet in our way of life as a good thing or a bad thing? Share your opinions in the comments below.

  • http://aftune.angelfire.com Wally Scherer

    For years I resisted spending the extra money for high speed internet. I was satisfied with my $10 a month plan for dial up. But then I got married and my wife brought her modern computer and high speed connection. I haven’t been to the library for web surfing in nearly 2 years. Yes, it basically HAS become a necessity.

  • http://www.flag-works.com/american_flags.htm patrick

    Just take alook around no ones alone everyone is as close as their iphone

    • http://www.usbdatacards.com Ray Shaw

      No…..there are people that are more lonely than ever. I remember getting on a bus 30 years ago and striking up a conversation with the person that sat next to me ….nowadays people are so busy checking their email and facebook and messagebank and listening to their ipod at the same time that they are losing the ability to communicate in the real world. I have caught myself pretending to send a text so i can avoid the effort of talking to people around me …I feel people are not only avoiding it but losing the ability to do it!

  • leo

    Yes in quake zone Christchurch NZ. After the Feb 22nd earthquake we were asked by local govt departments to contact them by their web sites via the radio. I was with out internet connection for six weeks. Did not like being told to use the internet when to my place the cable was broken there for no internet connection. They did not add a phone number to the adds. Was not a good look. Then you realize water, food, heating and chemical toilets are very important to life.

  • http://www.the-arc.co.uk Actuarial Jobs

    Once we get used to having something in our day to day lives it is no longer a luxury.

    With no heating you can do something about it – put an extra layer of clothing on for example. Take away your phone or computer and you cannot communicate (apart from those people near you).

    People shop online, bank online, comunicate with friends and family online – and for a business it’s even more essential.

  • http://www.desertbookshelf.com James Paddock

    I would shut off my TV cable before I’d shut off my internet.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com CaptainCyberzone

    I see the internet as a great compilation of many detached services, resources and entertainments.
    It gives me the news to whatever depth I want it. It’s replaced my library treks with a far greater and expanded research resource and repository of reading material. I get to stream all sorts of entertainment in one compact stationary or portable device. It allows me instant (or almost instant) communication with others.
    It’s actually given me more time to pursue my passions.
    Thank you Al Gore! (Just joking …)

  • http://www.loveshade.org Alden Loveshade

    I’m probably a little unusual here. Having access to a computer and being able to send email were essential to my livelihood before I ever used the World Wide Web. I worked in a bureau office of a large newspaper and sent my stories in over a phone line, sometimes from the office and sometimes from home. For those who think 54 Mbps (about 54,000,000 bytes) per second is a slow connection, think about transmitting at 300 baud.

  • http://www.tesselliott.com Tess Elliott

    The internet is at the center of my personal and business life now, and I would hate to have to do without it. I pay my bills online, I write and market my work, keep in touch with a family that lives a time zone away, and friends even farther away. It makes my world much larger than it once was, and I actually have a chance to know some of my second cousins who never knew me growing up. I don’t need the cloud and don’t believe the security issues are solved yet, but I rely on and need my internet connection AND the computer.

    • http://www.usbdatacards.com Ray Shaw

      I find it fascinating the people that say their world is so much bigger ….What it actually means is you waste more time on the internet and no longer communicate as much with your neighbours and real life friends.Their is always a trade off ….spending more time online just means something else is sacrificed. or are you saying you would otherwise be asleep if you were not online….???

  • http://www.minnesota-visitor.com Judith

    The internet is absolutely essential to my life. Having reached retirement age with nothing but Social Security to depend on, I’ve learned to earn my retirement income with my websites. High speed internet is not an option; it’s a must.

    In addition, as others have mentioned, the ability to stay connected with family and friends on Facebook, add a business Facebook account for my websites, etc. has made this a “whole new world” for those of us who were born before TV!

  • synergi

    I would give up my cable tv and my house phone before I gave up internet. I find via programs like netflix, facebook and skype, the internet covers most of the needs that the first two give me. I would bet a lot of people have smartphones for the internet part of it. Its to bad the cell companies are so crooked that they make you pay a service you don’t need to have a data plan.

    I also think it bad that the ISP vendors also control cable tv. That is a bad combo. When people start to cut the cable cord they are going to either raise internet prices or limit the data you can use.

  • http://www.usbdatacards.com Ray Shaw

    I love the way people talk about cloud storage as if it is something brand new and exciting.Cloud storage is merely storage that is “off site” and when designers are putting together infrastructure designs for companies ,instead of going into details about how their offsite storage worked they just drew a cloud and called it “offsite” thisway they eliminated having to describe how it worked as clients rarely cared how infrastructure worked that was not their own. And now people call anything that is offsite “cloud storage” as if it is some kind of mystical fancy new thing that noone has ever seen before!! it just seems crazy to me! People have been drawing clouds on infrastructure designs for as long as i can remember….only difference today is they wrote the text “cloud storage” as if its a new concept!

  • joe underwood

    I would like to share a story (True)! A customer of our company shared his experience of the WWW/Net in that he found us on the Net after my question of how he found our company (and others) for his project? He further volunteered a story of going into town (population 9,800) to purchase a birthday gift for his wife. The Jewelry store owner and the Rancher had grown up together, school, drove tractors and married Sisters (close relationship). Longer story but the Jeweler told the Rancher that the Net was the place to purchase the gift….it is cheaper than what I can purchase and cheaper still for the Rancher.

    So is the Net changing our lives?? The Rancher bought from the Jeweler anyway and he gave several reasons.

  • http://CoolTechSpot.com D4RK_4NG3L

    Well in my household I do. My job entirely from the internet so I think that would make it a basic utility in my household because I couldn’t support my family without it currently.

  • http://www.myalmanac.blog.ca Rudy Hiebert

    If I agree then the “Internet” companies will go all out to charge the day lights out of our wallets and hold us hostage. During the last generation a new house had to be wired with a phone line, how that has changed.

  • http://www.starrgates.com Caryn Starr-Gates

    Because of my work i absolutely rely on internet and email every day throughout the day.

    I can go a few days without even turning on my cell phone, which I only use when I am out of the office to check voice mails and make some calls when I am out.
    I do not have a smart phone. Nothing could ever be that absolutely crucial that it can’t wait ’til I get back to the office. However, because people are expecting a certain level of connection, I am considering upgrading to a smart phone and paying for a data plan for those times when I am out for a very long time (half day/whole day).
    Do not use a tablet of any kind, no reason to do so that i can think of.
    I watch about 7 hours of TV a week.

  • http://www.mindmagic123.com Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy – Los Angeles

    For most small business persons, such as myself, the internet has become a necessity, and as such a utility. Without it we would be lost. It also saves me all my bill paying costs, both of time and money, to the detriment of the Postal service. One utility replacing another.

    Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy Los Angeles

  • Phil

    And not a single comment on how we heat our digital spaces? I have a 1500 watt mini-heater under my desk so that I don’t need to waste electricity on warming the entire place. I taped cardboard around the desk to cut down on cold drafts getting in around my feet. Then I mounted a 120 watt heat lamp overhead for the colder nights. Lately I’ve been using a 1000 watt Presto Heat Dish, very nice. I have internet-only cable, no cell phone. Been thinking about shutting off the landline, I can always text my friends phones from Google Voice.

  • http://www.qasrmusic02.com sajad


  • jumpjack

    You understand Google is no more a luxury but a need when you think you’d like Google to be able to find something… on your desk! (or in your room, or in whole house!)

  • viktor

    I couldn’t’ agree more! Humans are losing a real life feeling and trading short life for digital gadgets. I remember when I was in Canada and the power was out for few days. That was a good lesson for people, but my guess – we never learn…..

    Ukrainian Business Directory

  • http://www.smgperformancehorses.webs.com Stephanie Higgins

    I can’t make money without my computor,that is how I stay connected with everyone in the horse world, so it is a major piority ! Higher than the cell phone, or the TV cable, and higher on my list than eating out and entertainment.

  • http://www.laymanwebdesign.com Obdurate

    It’s no more of a utility than television, radio or any other medium used to transmit information.

    All the internet does is give us alternatives to the mainstream. Don’t let anyone tell you any different or it WILL be regulated as a public utility.

    The fed’s have been trying to get their hands in this piece of the pie for years all they need is for the public to “believe” it’s a necessity.

  • http://www.productiontrax.com Royalty Free Music

    We probably could all unplug for a while and be just fine. Well, maybe not us who make a living from the internet…

  • Amplefire

    It might not be in our power to determine our future relationship with technology. First of all, monthly service fees will increasingly become less accessible to the dwindling middle class, American household budget. We are becoming a nation of working and non working POOR people, don’t you know? The jobs are gone and not coming back. For the foreseeable future, there are no jobs in sight to American, apart from those paying slave wages. In homes earning under $40,000, the online figure plummets to 41 percent. As much as I used the internet and digital technologies on a regular basis, I think history will prove that the obsession we now have with technology is something of a fad. Remember how everyone was telling us that Ebay and online shopping would completely change the way we shop?! Seems that a bad economy, increased hikes in shipping cost and the “human factor” have led those once high numbers of online shoppers right back to Main St. Never say never. We’ll all likely be farmers by the end of the century… that is, if there’s still and Earth to inhabit.