SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS
Columbus, OH — Washington, D.C. is the most Internet-accessible city in the United States, according to a new study by Ohio State University researchers. The other top five cities, in order, are Chicago, Dallas, New York and Atlanta.
Researchers measured accessibility by the number of Internet connections to and from each city through 31 major commercial-Internet backbones. Cities that had more connections were rated as more accessible. The combined network of these 31 backbones, which included telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Sprint, contained 141 cities and 848 linkages.
High-ranking cities in this survey may have some advantages over other cities in the global marketplace, said Morton O’Kelly, co-author of the study and professor of geography at Ohio State University.
“In general, cities with more linkages to the Internet backbone will have faster access and more reliable connections to global information,” O’Kelly said. “This enhanced access results in a comparative advantage that will grow in importance with the continuing global computerization of information.”
O’Kelly did the study with David Wheeler, a former graduate student at Ohio State. The research focuses solely on the commercial Internet, not systems serving primarily military, research or other institutions. Their results appear in the current issue of the journal Professional Geographer.
Overall, cities in the West did best in the rankings. Eight of the top 20 cities are located in the West, five are in the Northeast, four are in the Midwest, and three are in the South.
The West’s advantage comes primarily from cities in and around Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. “The results are not unexpected given the growth of computer technology and investment in the Internet in California over the past decade,” O’Kelly said.
Washington leads the pack in part because it is one of the nation’s four network access points, locations where Internet service providers interconnect and exchange data flow, O’Kelly said. The other NAPs are in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, which are all in the top 10 of Internet accessibility.
How do high accessibility rankings favor a city? One major reason, O’Kelly said, is that cities with high accessibility often are served by more than one Internet backbone. This redundancy is important in the event that one backbone network experiences a technical problem or especially heavy use. Most of the backbones have peering relationships that allow each other to share traffic flow, which may be especially vital when one of the backbones has problems.
In addition to measuring the total linkages each city has to the Internet backbones, the researchers also used a different measure: the total distance of the Internet paths from one city to every other city. In this case, cities with the shortest total paths had an advantage over cities with longer paths. While there was some shuffling of positions, eight of the top 10 cities were the same on both lists. New York City (Pennsauken, NJ) was ranked first in this measure. In general, O’Kelly said cities in the Northeast fared best in having the shortest total Internet paths to other cities.
O’Kelly emphasized that the data used in this study will change rapidly. “What we have is a snapshot of city accessibility at one moment in time from data collected in 1997,” he said. “I’m sure many of the results we found will change relatively quickly.”
This study was supported in part by an Ameritech Faculty Fellowship to O’Kelly.