Study reveals top 30 most Internet-accessible cities in the United States; Chicago leads the way

July 08, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio - With the growth of the digital economy, a "Big 7" of U.S. cities has emerged as leaders in Internet network accessibility, according to a new study.

The leading cities, all of which are among the nation's largest, will continue to reap economic benefits because of their telecommunications advantage, researchers say.

The Big 7 are, in order, Chicago, Washington, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"The digital economy is built on accessibility to the Internet, and cities that have the most developed Internet infrastructure will have an economic advantage," said Morton O'Kelly, co-author of the study and a professor of geography at Ohio State University.

"Our results indicate that the 'Big 7' will probably continue their dominance in network accessibility."

O'Kelly conducted the study with Tony Grubesic, a former graduate student at Ohio State. Their results appear in the July 2002 issue of the journal Environment and Planning B.

The researchers measured accessibility by the number of Internet connections to and from each city through 41 major commercial-Internet backbones in 2000. Cities that had more connections were rated as more accessible. Based on their analysis, the researchers developed a list of the top 30 cites in terms of Internet accessibility.

Chicago was ranked first because it had the most total Internet paths available between it and every other city. Chicago leads the nation in part because it is one of the nation's original network access points - locations where Internet service providers interconnect and exchange data flow. Chicago also has an advantage because it is already a major transportation center.

"Cities that are important nodes in air, rail and highway transportation networks are also important in Internet backbone networks," Grubesic said. "The Internet backbones transport the valuable goods of the digital economy - information, knowledge and communication."

This study is a follow-up to a similar study that O'Kelly and David Wheeler, a former graduate student, conducted in 1997. (For more information on that study, see

O'Kelly said, overall, the most accessible cities changed very little between 1997 and 2000. However, there has been an emergence of second- and third-tier cities among the Internet elite. Cities such as Portland (ranked 19th in 2000 and 40th in 1997), Kansas City (moved from 21st to 14th), St. Louis (moved from 14th to 12th) and Salt Lake City (moved from 37th to 15th) have become important nodes on the commercial Internet, O'Kelly said.

One reason may be locations along major corridors for transcontinental Internet routes. One example is St. Louis, along the Interstate 70 route. Other cities, such as Portland, have built more Internet infrastructure because of a developing information technology industry.

The top cities in network accessibility have shifted west since the 1997 study, O'Kelly said. Of the top 20 cites, eight are now located in the West, six in the South, four in the Midwest and only two in the Northeast. In the 1997 study, five of the top 20 cities were in the Northeast. "This suggests that the comparative advantage once enjoyed by cities in the Northeast has probably shifted to the Midwest and West," he said.

Overall, of the top 30 cities in 2000, Sacramento made the largest gain in the rankings from 1997, moving from 65th to 25th. Other cities moving up significantly in the rankings include Portland, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

The two cities that fell the most in the rankings were Minneapolis (from 17th to 27th) and Detroit (19th to 29th).

If you measure accessibility by metropolitan areas, the "Big 7" cities remain at the top with their respective metro regions.

However, the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan area -- which broadly encompasses Silicon Valley -- rises to the top, above metro Chicago.

In addition to measuring the total linkages each city has to Internet backbones, the researchers also calculated 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, nine of the top 10 cities were the same on both lists. Chicago also led the list in this category.

Does network accessibility as measured in this study really make a difference to cities? O'Kelly and Grubesic said it does.

"Where network accessibility and performance are concerned, a few milliseconds difference may not be noticed by an individual end user," O'Kelly said. "However, the aggregate impact of millions of messages not requiring network hops, or experiencing lower latency, may well give significant advantages to cities with high accessibility."

The importance of network accessibility is shown by the fact that e-businesses in Europe frequently pay U.S. Internet service providers both for web hosting and for transit in order to reach European users, according to the researchers.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Greg Elsaesser and Megan Kirschenheiter, two former undergraduates, helped with the data collection. They were funded through the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, and both have now graduated from Ohio State.
Contact: Tony Grubesic,

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;

Ohio State University

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