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U.S. and California Internet speeds still not speedy

August 12, 2008 | 12:01 am

It's 2008, and that series of tubes called the Internet has been around for a while. You'd think that by now, you'd be able to simultaneously download giant videos while uploading photos while checking e-mail while streaming Net radio stations, thanks to the cheetah-like speed of your broadband connection.

Broadband router But as anyone who's ever used the Internet knows by now, speeds these days are less like a cheetah and more like a dog that sometimes runs kind of fast and other times slogs along. Want proof? Check out a study released late Monday by the Communication Workers of America, which tested the speeds of 230,000 Internet users and came up with median speeds for different states and ZIP Codes. You can check out the median Internet speed in your area here. It also will tell you the speed of the Internet connection you're using.

California may be a high-tech hub, but you wouldn't know it from the study. The Golden State ranks 25th in the U.S., with a median download speed of 2.5 megabits per second, slower than fastest state Rhode Island's 6.8 mbps. The slowest state is Alaska, with a dreary 0.8 mbps (Quick geography reminder: Rhode Island is the smallest state. Alaska is the biggest in size).

Some in California have faster speeds than others, according to the map. Web surfers in Topanga can bop all over the Internet unimpeded, with download speeds of 8.1 mbps per second, while those in North Hollywood have sluggish speeds of 0.5 mbps. The LA County median download speed was 2.3 mbps.

The U.S. download average of 2.35 mbps is dwarfed ...

... by Japan's 63.6 mbps and Finland's 21.7 mbps. That's not good for our productivity, said Debbie Goldman, Speed Matters coordinator for the Communication Workers of America.

"We're behind the rest of the world and it really matters," she said. "The jobs of the future depend on having the best networks possible."

Now wait a minute, you might say. I get my Internet service from Company X, and pay a whole lot of money to get a download speed of 5 or 15 or 20 mbps. What gives? Well, Goldman says, maybe you're not getting what you're paying for. Internet connections through a cable line, for instance, get slower with more more people on them. And some DSL connections get slower the farther away you get from the central office.

That's why the Communication Workers of America is advocating for a national broadband policy. Japan has one, after all. A national policy would set goals and timetables for faster connections and give tax incentives to phone companies that work toward faster speeds. The CWA backs the Broadband Data Improvement Act in Congress and a bill pending in the California Legislature that would allow the Public Utilities Commission to allocate $100 million to spur broadband deployment in underserved areas, Goldman said.

Don't want to wait for legislators, who might have more important things on their mind such as, hmm, balancing the budget? You could sign up for Verizon's FiOS or AT&T's U-Verse, which have faster speeds than DSL or the Internet provided by cable companies. Of course, they're not offered everywhere. You'll have to check out whether they're available in your neighborhood by looking online. Good luck with that.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers wireless, marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo: The inside of a broadband router. Jean-Etienne Poirrier via Flickr