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News/Opinion
‹‹ V.17 No.50 | December 11 - 17, 2008

Tech

How Slow Can You Go?

New Mexico has the most sluggish Internet browsing speed in the country

By Simon McCormack

In the race for fast Internet, our state is way behind.

That’s according to a report in this month’s PC Magazine, which says New Mexico has the slowest average Internet surfing speed in the country.

PC Magazine did a study by asking 17,000 participants to download SurfSpeed 2.0. The program measures how quickly certain webpages (such as Google, Yahoo, MySpace and eBay) load. The participants were from all over the country and used several Internet service providers.

The results put the average New Mexico surfing speed at 322 kilobytes per second. That’s less than half Nevada's speed, which was the No. 1 state on the list and clocked in at a blazing 781 kilobytes per second.

Besides slower page downloads, PC Magazine Editor in Chief Lance Ulanoff says people with sluggish Internet connections will miss out on streaming video. “They're not going to experience the direction the whole Internet is going in where you’re watching shows on your TV through the Internet,” Ulanoff says. “States where, on average, they have much slower access, it's going to be a long time before they can experience this.”

Businesses in New Mexico could also be at a disadvantage, Ulanoff says, especially if many of their employees use the Internet to work from home. “If that Internet is slow, you're not going to get as much work done,” Ulanoff says. “You're going to be lagging behind competitors in a different state.”

Why So Slow?

High-speed Internet providers will only invest in building the infrastructure to deliver their product if there’s cash to be made, according to Ulanoff. A company is less likely to put money into small towns where there are fewer customers. In contrast, there are more high-speed Internet providers in densely populated areas.

If you don't have any competitors, then you have no reason to improve service. If your customers are captive, they're not going to go anywhere.

Mark Costlow, owner of Southwest Cyberport

New Mexico has relatively few residents, and many live in rural communities throughout the state. Therefore, it gets less of that infrastructure. “It's a common story,” Ulanoff says. “A lot of service providers have invested more heavily in metropolitan areas where they can make a bigger splash.”

Though it’s similar in size and population to New Mexico, Nevada’s residents tend to live in Las Vegas and Reno, areas where building infrastructure guarantees a big customer base. New Mexico is more spread out. That helps explain the disparity between the states’ surfing speeds.

Competition can drive down costs, but New Mexico doesn’t see a lot of it. Mark Costlow, owner of the Albuquerque-based Internet provider Southwest Cyberport, says, “If you don't have any competitors, then you have no reason to improve service. If your customers are captive, they're not going to go anywhere.” (Disclosure: The Alibi uses Southwest Cyberport.)

On the other hand, Ulanoff says, companies will spend money to upgrade equipment and deliver better service in places where competition is stiff.

How Can We Pick Up the Pace?

While it might not have the most ideal conditions to lure hungry competitors, New Mexico does have high-speed Internet providers. Comcast offers cable Internet service in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Las Cruces and Silver City. According to the study, Comcast customers cruised at a relatively fast average speed of 750 kilobytes per second.

Comcast has no plans to expand coverage in the near future. But spokesperson Chris Dunkeson says the positive results from the company’s venture into Silver City, a town with about 10,000 people, make future investment more likely. “We’re looking at ways to expand our service,” Dunkeson says.

Eighty percent of Qwest’s customers in New Mexico have DSL Internet or could get it if they wanted it, according to company spokesperson Mark Molzen. Between Feb. 1, 2007, and Oct. 31, 2008, Molzen says Qwest spent $69 million to bring high-speed Internet to New Mexico. The state Public Regulations Commission spokesperson Paul Carbajal says Qwest had to spend the money as part of a lawsuit settlement brought by the PRC. The commission charged that Qwest wasn’t investing significantly in New Mexico. In the PC Magazine study, Qwest users chugged along at 423 kilobytes per second.

Deborah Martinez, spokesperson for the state's Department of Information Technology, says Gov. Bill Richardson is working with high-speed Internet providers on three pilot programs. They are expected to launch in Farmington, Hobbs and Española next year.

In an e-mail, Richardson’s spokesperson Alarie Ray-Garcia says the governor understands the importance of all New Mexicans having access to high-speed Internet. “The governor believes that this is an issue the state and the private sector need to work on together,” Ray-Garcia writes.

Ultimately, New Mexico may have to wait until its population increases to entice more competition. That day may come sooner rather than later, according to Carbajal. “You're seeing an influx of people coming in here,” Carbajal says. “It's not a question of if—but when.”

Find out your Internet surfing speed by downloading SurfSpeed 2.0 at pcmag.com.