Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

We've come to rely on our internet connections and quickly notice when speed isn't what it should be. The problem is that there are many possible reasons.

Intermittently, my internet connection becomes really slow. The download speed seems to be OK (650 -700 kbps) but I periodically show a latency period as high as >3600 ms. My ISP says that is normal but I don't think they know what they are talking about.

I used to be with your ISP (the original question called out the ISP by name), and, well ... let's just say I'm no longer with them.

There are several reasons that internet speeds can vary, but in general I wouldn't expect latency (the time it takes for a response to arrive) of over 3.5 seconds.

Off the top of my head, here are some reasons you might be seeing those performance characteristics:

  • Activity on your own machine. I suspect this is not the case, but I do have to call it out since it could be a biggie. Basically anything else you're doing on your machine that accesses the internet could be adversely impacting the speed tests that you're running. Of particular note are viruses that may have planted a spam-bot on your machine. They'll periodically start sending big batches of spam which could certainly affect your apparent internet speed.

  • The quality of your phone line. I ran into this myself some years ago. Turned out I had a noisy phone line, that was impacted by water seeping into the wires underground. Once the telephone company came out, discovered and fixed that, life was good. Even with my more recent T-1 installation, the technicians had to switch the wires used because of the poor signal quality of the originally selected pair.

  • ISP Traffic. Even though your DSL connection to your ISP is dedicated only to you, at some point "upstream" it is aggregated with the internet traffic of others. Cable users see this most frequently, since their bandwidth is not dedicated, but rather shared with their immediate neighbors. If there's something happening to use up all resources after your connection is aggregated with others, the impact might well be reduced performance.

  • Traffic at "the other end". I'm going to assume that you're seeing a general problem across all of your internet connections, but if it's a problem with one particular site or service, the issue could easily be at their end.

  • A poor quality or dying DSL modem. I experienced this as well. Rather than just fail outright, I have seen DSL modems die a slow death, and performance is often one of the early warning signs.

  • Problems with your own network card or equipment. This needs to be included for completeness. One of the things that most ISP technical support people will tell you to do is to disconnect everything but one computer from your connection, and test it that way. It's annoying, but there's a reason: this eliminates all of your other equipment, such as routers, switches and other computers, from impacting the results. In your case, it would be interesting to do exactly that, and then see if the result change if you use a different computer.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there are many places to potentially point the finger. A good ISP will help you diagnose at least somewhat, or perhaps put you in contact with the data side of your local telephone company that actually provides the physical connection into your home. (As an aside, even though your ISP and your telephone company might share a name that does not mean that they are the same company, or that even if they are that the two divisions work well together. Often, it's just the opposite.)

Article C3455 - July 23, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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15 Comments
DS Ullman
July 24, 2008 3:42 PM

Can you say bittorrent? :)

Perhaps - that really depends on your ISP's capacity.

The other scenario we keep hearing about is if you are using bittorrent, your ISP may be throttling you. (In which case I'd switch ISP's, myself.)

-Leo

KSS
July 29, 2008 1:37 PM

I don't think it exactly matches the case described here; but, my ISP's DNS servers were often incredibly slow to respond or failed to respond at all. I switched my router to point to OpenDNS and my web experience is quicker overall.

Ryan
July 30, 2008 4:15 PM

My internet connection is really slow but I think it is my computer that is doing it. I have Windows 98 and a 100.00 MBPS ethernet connection.
I must upgrade I think.

betty deneke
August 1, 2008 3:54 PM

Your answer to slow internet experience has helped me with my problem with ATT&T. My DSL slowness is turtleish. My problem is with my lack of knowledge and their support considers me a nut when they try to help me and I do not understand. Keep up the good work, I'm learning.

Peter E Avon
August 6, 2008 7:35 AM

I've just recently changed my ISP but I'm with Betty in that the technicians I speak with don't seem to understand what I'm saying....maybe it is because I can't understand their gutteral accents...but what is the solution...???I guess you learn to live with it since changing ISP's presents another problem???

Debbie Parker
August 14, 2008 8:27 AM

I have a similar problem with my ISP and these articles were very helpful.
Thank you

phil
May 5, 2009 1:49 PM

Using Belkin G+Mimo wireless Router for cable not bt line connection keeps dropping

A. Hill
June 3, 2009 8:50 PM

what did you mean by ISP's throttling you for using bittorrent? How does that work? I have had an exceptionally good connection until recently when I downloaded a torrent. I know it wasn't a virus and I haven't checked the router, but it's fairly new. Could they be throttling my connection speed because of that download?

Two things: one, using bittorrent uses bandwidth of course, so everything else you're doing that also requires internet bandwidth will appear slower while bittorrent is running.

ISPs are starting to watch for bittorrent usage (they can look at the packets of information being transferred and it's often clear that they are bittorrent), and will penalize people who use it by intentionally slowing down their internet connection - throttling it.
- Leo
04-Jun-2009

sam
June 18, 2009 5:53 AM

I have this problem with a workhorse Netgear router. Paying for 20megs from Virgin: get 3.5megs on average. Called Virgin, engineer came round. He said it could 'be anything' on MY system...and BTW, Virgin 'STRANGLES' the connection speed because they don't have the capacity to provide the service. (verbatim).

constantoo
August 22, 2009 3:00 AM

hi,
yes my internet speed varies every time i check the speed and it varies with different browsers too why is that ?

x64marks
October 29, 2009 2:33 PM

hello, I'm having some issues with brighthouse lately. It seems as if the internet connection is very unstable because every time I ping google, the internet response times varies every packet. A technician came and supposedly "fixed" my issue, but it's still continueing. (P.S. sometimes the internet's super fast)

michael
December 27, 2009 12:38 AM

600 to 700kbps i amazing to me in australia the best Internet connection I've ever had is when i signed up on a 1gps which by the time it reaches 'my PC it's only 100kbps
what going on?

Ziska
January 23, 2010 7:39 PM

Everytime oir son comes to visit and uses his laptop on our wireless cable network - the network stops working. I've asked him several time if he is downloading something or playing games etc but he is denying it (not sure if I believe him). It never fails that when he is here our network will stop working several times a day. I'm really curious on WHY and WHAT is he doing or what does he have on his computer that does that to out network.
Thanks

mic
August 30, 2011 6:27 AM

Hi,
I am sharing connection with the landlord, but everytime I share, connection slows down, and if I ask him or his sons about this,then they say the connection is ok. I am unable to understand. They have a wireless connection. I do not know what should I do? The connection signal on my computer will always show excellent. Please suggest what could be the reason.

Danielle
October 8, 2011 11:39 AM

Hello! I have read your article, and, I have to say, I have had the same problems, but I am not sure it is any of the above. I use fiber optics cable and internet, and usually get about 16-18 Mbps. Lately, it has periods of times where it literally slows down to almost 12kbps for up to an hour. My computer shows that there is no problem, and the modem is brand new. We are gamers, and usually have 3 PCs going at once, but before recently, that has NEVER been an issue. And it affects everyone, so we know it isn't just one computer. We have called our ISP, they have come out several times, but it still seems to persist after a few days.

It usually happens the same time every night, but I experienced it today after lunch. Apparently our ISP doesn't know how to fix it, so I am trying to find someone who can shed some light on this.

If you have any ideas, excellent. If not, I completely understand.

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