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W.Va. Internet among nation’s slowest

W.Va. Internet among nation’s slowest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Downloading a large file off the Internet in West Virginia? If so, don’t make any other plans; it could take a while.

A new national study says Internet connection speed in the Mountain State is slower than everywhere else, except Alaska. The same file that takes 15 seconds to download in Rhode Island takes more than two minutes to download in West Virginia.

The report, issued by the Communications Workers of America union, is based on data collected on the Speed Matters Web site. Visitors to the site could take a test to determine how fast their Internet connection speed is, and the study is based on results from more than 80,000 users.

West Virginians have a median download speed of 1.12 megabits. That’s not terrible considering the national average is 1.97, but it’s far behind the jackrabbit-like speed of Rhode Island, the fastest state, with 5.01 megabits. But even Rhode Island pales in comparison to countries like Canada, with 7.60 megabits, or Japan, fastest in the world at 61 megabits.

Although West Virginia’s neighbors fare better, many of them are still in the bottom half of the country in Internet speed, with Ohio ranked 40th, Pennsylvania at 33 and Kentucky just ahead at 32. Maryland and Virginia did better, coming in at 10 and 11, respectively.

The union warns that slow Internet speeds will dull America’s edge in competition with other countries as the Web becomes an even more important aspect of commerce.

‘We are behind, not just as a state, but as a country,’ said Elaine Harris, spokeswoman for the union in West Virginia.

Sen. John Unger, co-chairman of the Legislature’s select committee on broadband access, said West Virginia will only improve by extending high-speed service throughout its borders and creating more demand for faster access. In today’s economy, he said, there’s no excuse for doing otherwise.

‘You can have all the nice roads and welcome signs you want, but if you don’t have the infrastructure and the demand for high-speed Internet, we can’t do business,’ he said.

Unger sponsored a bill earlier this year approved by the Legislature that he said would have helped accomplish those goals. Gov. Joe Manchin vetoed the bill, though, after getting an offer to help the state improve broadband access from Cisco Systems CEO and West Virginia native John Chambers.

The problem, though, may be less a matter of supply than of demand, according to Mark Polen, executive director of the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association.

About 80 percent of the homes with Internet access through their cable companies can get it at speeds of at least 3 megabits, Polen said.

But the higher speeds typically cost more, which is no small matter for West Virginia, 49th overall in median household income. In addition, there are other factors that limit the extent of high-speed Internet use in the state.

About 34.6 percent of households in the state subscribe to broadband Internet service, according to an April report by the state Advanced Services Task Force. The national average is about 49.6 percent. The report also found that about 59 percent of households in West Virginia have a computer, compared to 69 percent nationally.

‘Whether we have one megabit or 10 megabits isn’t going to matter much if people don’t have computers and aren’t online,’ Polen said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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