As Internet Speeds Ahead, Florida's Major Metropolitan Areas Fall Behind, UF Study Finds
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s major cities have slipped further behind in the race for high-speed Internet access, a trend that impacts residents’ and companies’ ability to take advantage of burgeoning Internet services such as video conferencing.
A new study by Ed Malecki, a University of Florida geography professor, has found that although the amount of bandwidth available in Florida’s major metropolitan areas has increased significantly in the past two years, it has failed to keep pace with the increase at other major cities nationally.
As a result, the Jacksonville, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale areas all now rank further below other major cities in bandwidth availability on long-distance Internet backbones than they did in the initial survey in 1998. Only Orlando, Florida’s best-connected city, has moved up in the rankings, rising from the city with the 24th highest bandwidth in the nation in 1998 to 20th this year, the study shows.
“Relatively speaking, we’re falling behind, even if we’re absolutely gaining,” Malecki said.
Bandwidth is a measure of the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time — essentially the speed at which information travels through wire or cables.
With video conferencing, streaming video and other data-intensive services becoming more commonplace, high bandwidth is increasingly important not only for businesses, but also for consumers who want to take advantage of the latest technology, Malecki said.
For businesses, high bandwidth provides a venue for seamless teleconferences and other real-time collaborations conducted at a distance, such as remote training for employees. For consumers, it opens the door to practical video telephones and the ability to download and play videos off the Internet, among other possibilities.
Falling behind puts Florida companies “at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis companies located in other places,” Malecki said.
Malecki’s study ranked the top 100 cities in bandwidth availability nationwide in 2000 compared to 1998. It found that the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area slipped from 19th to 22nd; the Jacksonville area went from 25th to 37th and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area fell from 26th to 30th.
With 45,528 million bits per second of bandwidth availability, 20th-ranked Orlando still had only about one-fifth the bandwidth of New York City, which led the rankings with 241,721 million bits per second. Atlanta, the only other city besides Orlando in the South in the top 20, was ranked sixth with 149,200 million bits per second. That’s still more bits per second than all the Florida cities combined, a total of 141,928 bits per second.
In order from most to least bandwidth, the top 30 cities were ranked as follows: New York, Chicago, Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Portland, Cleveland, Detroit, Phoenix, Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami, San Diego, Sacramento, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Tulsa, Austin, New Orleans and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
Malecki, whose study is part of a two-year research project on the infrastructure of the Internet sponsored by the National Science Foundation, said Florida’s low rankings are largely an accident of geography.
As a peninsula, Florida does not lie between other states or major cities. This means bandwidth providers are reluctant to lay fiber optic cable, an extremely expensive and time consuming operation, through the state. Part of the reason Orlando has so much bandwidth is that it lies between North and South Florida and therefore provides a natural avenue for cable, Malecki said.
Florida is trying to improve its technology-based economy through the Information Service Technology Development Task Force formed by Gov. Jeb Bush. But Malecki said state government only has limited power to increase bandwidth.
“Government doesn’t put in fiber, companies do,” he said. “The government provides free lunches to business people at meetings, but they’re not going to install fiber because of a free lunch — they’re going to do it because they see it as a profitable and competitive advantage.”
The situation is likely to improve somewhat when two planned network access points, which increase bandwidth, are completed in South Florida in 2001. But Malecki noted that other states are also racing ahead.
“We’re anything but stagnant, but this is a really fast-moving technology, and you’ve got to be faster than the fastest to be moving ahead,” he said.
Ed Malecki, email@example.com, (352) 392-0494 ext. 220