Metropolitan Seattle percolated past the San Francisco Bay area this year thanks to an abundance of Starbucks Corp. outlets, which have wireless "hot spots" where patrons linger over latte and laptops, according to Intel Corp.'s annual ranking. Seattle also benefited from wireless access at its Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.
San Francisco finished second, thanks to wireless hubs at bars, convention centers, office parks and strip malls from Oakland to San Jose. Hundreds of residents build wireless access towers on their roofs, providing free connections for neighbors.
Also in the top 10: Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Toledo, Ohio; Atlanta; Denver; the Research Triangle area of North Carolina; Minneapolis; and Orange County, Calif.
Santa Clara-based Intel ranked cities based on the number of commercial or free "Wi-Fi" points from January to April 15 in the 100 largest urban regions in the United States.
Short for "wireless fidelity," Wi-Fi delivers high-speed Internet connections through a small radio tower. About the size of a can of beer, the radio can provide access to any mobile device within 300 feet.
Intel, which makes chips for wireless devices, is bullish about Wi-Fi. But the newest survey shows the nation as a patchwork — not blanket — of access.
College campuses, technology hubs and even golf courses boosted rankings, while poorer urban centers trailed. Low-ranking regions included Jersey City, N.J.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Allentown, Pa.; Youngstown, Ohio; Bakersfield, Calif.; and McAllen, Texas.