Is your broadband ISP ripping you off?


New York State is investigating whether three major ISPs are delivering less bandwidth than they promise their customers. Here's what you can do to find out whether your ISP, no matter where you live, is ripping you off.

As part of the investigation, the New York Attorney General sent letters to Verizon Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp, and Time Warner Cable asking for documents showing the speeds they promise their customers, and what information they have about their testing of the speeds they actually deliver.

"New Yorkers deserve the Internet speeds they pay for. But, it turns out, many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claims.

The attorney general's office is particularly concerned about service disruptions or slowdowns caused by business disagreements and technical glitches with  interconnection agreements with long-haul Internet traffic carriers. The investigation was prompted by a study by the Measurement Lab Consortium, known as M-Lab. That study found "persistent performance degradation experienced by customers of a number of major access ISPs across the United States during the first half of 2015." It found performance degradation in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, DC. and New York City. New York City was the most affected.

So what can you do if you suspect your ISP isn't delivering its promised speeds? Test, test, and test again. First, of course, check your agreement to see what speeds your ISP promises to deliver. Then run bandwidth tests. It's best to run more than one, and to run them at different parts of the day. Each time you do a test, do it three times and average the results. Then average the results of all the tests you do. It's important to test during peak usage, which is between 7 pm and 11 pm local time.

Also, you should test with your device connected directly to your router or cable modem. If you do the tests wirelessly, you could just be testing your WiFi speed, not the speed your ISP delivers to you. And for best results, run only a single browser tab, and don't be running any other applications that connect to the Internet.

With all that in mind, here are useful test sites:

  • Speedtest by Ookla. This is my go-to speed test, and my favorite of all.
  • Speed Test from Xfinity Yes, this test has good reason to show a Comcast connection as being faster than it really is. In my tests, it does seem to shade the results a little higher than others. But still, when done in concert with other tests, I find it useful.
  • DSLReports Speed Test Use this test not just for DSL, but for other types of broadband as well.
  • SpeedOf.Me This is an HMTL5-based speed test and well worth trying.
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