August 30, 2010, 2:02 PM — The FCC is now criticizing broadband providers for a situation well-known to most of us: Sometimes, speed stinks. But what can you do about it? Here are some tools, tips and tricks to self-heal your sluggish net connection.
[ How do the Internet providers get away with such slow speeds compared to what's advertised? See CIO.com's "The Truth About Broadband Speeds" ]
First, get a handle on industry data for your region of the country and what you should be getting according to your peers experiences. The first piece of news that you can use: Timing is everything.
Like to do your browsing first thing in the morning? If you do, you'll find 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. the time when your broadband connection works at its fastest. But if you're a night person, the same connection will slow down by as much as 20% at 9 p.m., according to an hour-by-hour survey of major metropolitan areas by Ookla, which collects comparative data on broadband speeds that you can access.
It's not surprising that broadband via cable slows so much in the evening; cable bandwidth is essentially shared within neighborhoods. But the Ookla survey shows that DSL connections also slow during busy hours, even though bandwidth provided by companies like AT&T is not shared. However, the provider's overall network capacity is limited, and when many people on the system hit it at the same time, it slows.
"For DSL the bandwidth they supply to users is subject to the available infrastructure they have in place, meaning how much bandwidth the provider subscribes to from peering partners," says Ookla's Hanna Lane. So Covad in New York runs at 3.5 Mpbs in the wee hours from midnight to 5 a.m., but is nearly 23% slower at 9 p.m.
While the fast in the morning, slow at night rule is generally true, there are some notable exceptions. Earthlink subscribers in Seattle, for example, wake up to download speeds of 16.92 Mbps, but between 10 a.m. and noon, it's turtle time, with speeds averaging 1.9 Mbps.
More typical, though, is Comcast Cable service in Boston; service is a brisk 16.5 Mpbs first thing in the morning, dropping a bit more than 18% at 9 p.m. Of course, even at its slowest, cable is much faster than DSL at its fastest.
5 Tips to Speed Up Your W-Fi
The most direct route to a faster connection is to switch ISPs, or upgrade to a premium plan. But that can be expensive, and if you don't use your own domain, switching e-mail addresses can be very painful.
Of course, browsing and download speeds depend upon more than the speed of your broadband connection. Your browser, your PC, and your wireless network all make a difference and the speed you get won't be any faster than the slowest component allows.