Wired and Paying for It|
DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press Writer
|Updated: Fri, Jul 06 4:05 PM EDT|
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) - Steve Perna is wired, though not from
his morning coffee.
Every day, the car salesman clips a cellular telephone, an
e-mail-capable pager and palm-sized personal digital assistant to
He also carries a laptop and has desktop computers at home and
"When you get all those things hanging off your belt it looks
like Batman's utility belt or something," joked Perna, who manages
online sales for a Lincoln-Mercury dealership outside Washington.
A caped-crusading superhero he is not. But Perna is among
millions of people for whom the art of staying in touch and going
about their daily business would seem all but impossible without
wireless telephones and other electronic gizmos that started gaining
popularity in the mid-1990s.
This year, the typical family will spend $595 on communications
services - to surf the Internet, use a wireless phone or page
someone - more than triple the $175 spent in 1995, according to the
Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group.
These modern inventions have created an entirely new category of
monthly communications spending - a far cry from the days when
people just dropped a check in the mail to pay for the phone, and
maybe cable television.
Cell phones and Internet access via a cable modem on a home
computer costs Beth Dougherty, 37, a consultant from Fairfax, Va.,
and her husband more than $200 per month.
What couldn't she live without? Cable TV, for starters. "I love
my 120 channels."
Nathaniel Ennis, 35, of Washington, a temporary mail clerk at the
International Monetary Fund, uses his home computer to send out
resumes and surf the Internet. Add cell phones for him and his wife
and premium cable TV, and the monthly communications bill runs about
"My wife and I have been talking about getting a fax, too," Ennis
said during lunch in a park near his Washington office, a cell phone
tucked into in his shirt pocket.
Michael Powell, who guides telecommunications policy as chairman
of the Federal Communications Commission, questions how much people
can afford to spend on electronic gadgetry.
Powell uses a BlackBerry e-mail-capable pager, three cell phones
and a Palm Pilot. At home with his wife and their two sons, he has
two computers, two phone lines and a fax machine.
"It's a big chunk of my budget," Powell told The Associated
Some 118 million Americans have wireless phones - nearly four
times the number in December 1995, according to the Cellular
Telecommunications & Internet Association, an industry trade
More than half, or 54 percent, of the 105 million U.S. households
have at least one cell phone, according to Forrester Research, a
technology research firm in Cambridge, Mass.
One in 10 households has a pager; 6 percent use a Palm Pilot.
"This is ballooning into two, three-hundred dollar communications
bills," Powell remarked.
Such costs are certain to climb as the technology is put to new
For example, families moving into 18 houses being built in the
Seattle suburb of Renton can look forward to controlling any device,
appliance or system in their homes using the TV remote control,
mobile phone, personal digital assistant or some other wireless
Perna, 43, has his cell phone and BlackBerry pager costs covered
by his employers, leaving him with a bill of about $80 a month for
Internet access and a home phone line.
His Handspring Visor palm-sized computer was a gift from his
Not everyone sees the need to load up life with technology.
Krystal Williams, who heads to business school at Dartmouth
College in the fall, said she recently canceled her cell phone
because she didn't use it enough to justify the cost.
But she has a computer at home and wants to get a laptop for
school. She also won a Palm Pilot during orientation for business
school, but hasn't powered it up yet.
"I think my world will get increasingly high-tech when I start
business school, but right now I just can't afford some stuff," said
Williams, 27, of Chapel Hill, N.C.
Two years with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republican taught
her that she can live without any of the gadgets.
"People have things because we like to appear we're important,"
On the Net: Consumer Electronics Association: http://http://www.ce.org/
Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association: http://http://www.wow-com.com/
Associated Press writer Brooke Donald contributed to this