posted by Josh Goodman
Hate cell phones? You should move to Vermont. As of June 2005, the most recent data available, the Green Mountain state had the fewest cell phones per capita in the country at just over 300 per 1,000 people. The next closest states are Maine, Montana, West Virginia and Alaska.
In Governing's brand new 2006 Sourcebook, we decided to include data on wireless and landline subscriptions for the first time because it's a big issue for municipal governments. In some sense the aforementioned states are lucky, and not just because they're missing out on Jingle Bells ringtones. That's because, as more and more people switch to cell phones, local governments are losing revenue from the franchise fees they have traditionally charged to landline subscribers.
Some of the states that stand to lose out include Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii, Delaware and Florida, which ranked first through fifth, respectively, in cell phones per capita in June '05. New Jersey (-10.9%) and Florida (-8.5%) have already seen fairly sizable drops in landline subscriptions over the past five years, while the .1% increase over that time in Maryland is far slower than the rate of population growth (landline data from 2000 isn't available for Delaware and Hawaii).
As is often the case with data, however, the picture is more complicated than the numbers indicate.
One thing we found out when researching this information for Sourcebook is that between 2004 and 2005 the Federal Communications Commission changed the way that it counts cell phone subscriptions. Previously, the FCC based its state-by-state counts on the home addresses of the subscribers, but now it's counting them based on the area codes of the phones.
For most states, this shift didn't seem to matter much, but for a few it did. Most notably, the FCC reported Maine as having 660,000 subscriptions in December '04, but only 490,000 in June '05. The most likely explanation isn't that 170,000 Maine residents junked their cells over a six-month period, but rather that many of them have phones with other area codes. C'mon Mainers, show some area code pride!
All of this means that if you want to find data on how many residents in each state really have cell phones, you have to go back to December 2004, which is close to being ancient history in the telecommunications world.
Using that data, the states with the highest per capita rates were the same I mentioned earlier, while the five lowest were West Virginia, Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma and Maine. The FCC didn't report data for Vermont (or Montana) in '04, but I still think you're safe moving to Vermont if you dislike cell phones, unless of course you're among the millions of Americans who hate cell phones, but can't live without them.