Census Bureau error puts texting rate at a fraction of CTIA estimate

Everybody knows that teenagers like to text via mobile phones rather than be overheard by a parent or teacher when making a voice call.

In fact, teenagers and young adults are a big reason for the enormous explosion in text messaging noted in the last year by U.S. wireless carriers, represented by their national organization, the CTIA.

But just how much texting is actually going on is apparently in some disagreement, with numbers for growth in texting contained in a U.S. Census Bureau press release issued today just a fraction of what the private sector has reported through the CTIA.

The U.S. Census Bureau issued a press release today saying there were 110 billion text messages sent in 2008, up from 48 billion sent in 2007. That increase was reported in the release as one small fact contained in the Bureau's annual authoritative tome on just about everything, entitled the "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012."

The increase and those figures were also picked up by an Associated Press report and Time magazine .

But the CTIA had reported in October that texting in 2008 was probably seven times what the Census Bureau said in its release.

For the first half of 2008, there were 385 billion text messages sent, the CTIA said in October, noting that the first half of 2009 had exploded, hitting 740 billion text messages. The CTIA typically reports its measurements semi-annually and has not finished its numbers for 2009.

A Census Bureau spokesman could not be reached today to explain the disparity in the numbers, but a research worker at CTIA had a quick explanation for what happened. "They [Census Bureau] pulled the wrong numbers," said the CTIA worker, who refused to give her name because she is not a spokesman.

She said the mistake was clear because the Census Bureau uses CTIA data for that tally on texting, and had obviously taken only the month of December 2008 tally for texts totaling 110 billion and then described it as the total for the full year. Similarly, she said that the Census Bureau also took the December 2007 number of 48 billion and said that was the amount for the full year for 2007.

"We'll have to tell them," she said.

CTIA also noted in October that only 25% of all the first half 2009 revenues of $19 billion in the wireless industry came from wireless data, with about 75% coming from wireless voice. That is at odds with Time 's headline today, which reads, "Study: Texting Edging Out Cell Phone Calls."

However, it is safe to say that texting is up and so are wireless revenues, no matter how you count it. Just witness a teenager.

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