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How to Improve Slow Internet Access

by Josh Kirschner on April 21, 2010

Websites Opening Slowly or Files Taking a Long Time to Download

Now that almost everyone has DSL, cable, or FIOS broadband services available for their homes, Internet access speeds are more than 30 times faster than they were in the old dial-up days. If you’re still using dial-up to access the Internet, we suggest you change immediately. Dial-up is hopelessly outdated and becomes more so every day. Subscription costs to broadband services are only slightly more than dial-up, you can use your phone and the Internet at the same time, and the improvement in speed will be tremendous. Don’t delay. Do it now.

Most websites should open in a matter of seconds (if it’s just one site that’s slow, the issue is probably with that site, not your connection). If loading websites is taking longer than about ten seconds, the problem could be with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or too many programs trying to access the Internet from your home at the same time.

First, it’s helpful to determine whether you have a real problem. These free websites allow you to easily test how fast your Internet connection is. If the measured speed is close to your expected speed (see below), then everything should be okay.

Expected Speed

Speed is measured in kilobits per second (Kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps); one megabit is a thousand times a kilobit. Your actual speed will almost always be lower than what your Internet Service Provider (ISP) advertises as the “Up to xxxx!” speed – this is normal. Also, download speeds (e.g., loading a website) are much faster than upload speeds (e.g., uploading photos to a photo sharing service), so don’t be surprised if it takes longer to get photos onto a site than download them to your computer. Check with your ISP to determine your subscription plan’s maximum download speed and then compare with your actual download speed; if you are more than 25% slower based on the bandwidth test from above, you may have an issue.

Generally speaking, you can expect the following download speeds (varying by the level of service you subscribe to).

  • Cable – From 3 Mbps to 20 Mbps. Speed can be negatively impacted by the number of neighbors who are sharing the same cable lines. If your Internet is slow during prime evening hours, there could be too many users on the line.
  • Dial-up – Max of 56 Kbps. Often much slower unless line quality is perfect. Downloading with dial-up is about as much fun as watching paint dry.
  • DSL – anywhere from 758 Kbps to 7 Mbps. Speed can be negatively impacted if you are far from the phone company’s central hub.
  • FiOS – Up to 50 Mbps.
  • Satellite – Up to 5 Mbps.

Suggested Solutions

If you determine that you are indeed having a speed issue, there is no quick or easy way to figure out what’s causing the issue. But here are some common problems to look for:

  • Downloading large amounts of data – either files or streaming music/video – can take up considerable bandwidth. File sharing programs, such as BitTorrent, Morpheus or Kazaa, can create both download and upload traffic. Look for these programs on your family’s PCs to see if you or someone on your home network (e.g., teenage son) may be the culprit.
  • Some viruses are built to take over your machine and turn it into a mass spam email generator. However, if you have an active, up-to-date virus protection program from a reputable provider such as Norton or Kapersky (and you should!), a virus is probably not the cause. To be sure, perform a complete system scan for viruses, spyware, and adware. If not, check out our Computer Security Buyer's Guide. And be wary of ads on the Internet for “free” virus scans or protection programs – many of these are actually scams to get you to download malicious software or purchase unnecessary programs.
  • Bandwidth theft is a possibility if you have a wireless network and you don’t have network security turned on. Theft happens when your neighbors hop on to your wireless connection to avoid paying for their own Internet service or to do illicit things that they don’t want to be tracked back to them. This is very easy to prevent by turning the wireless security on for your wireless router. Instructions on how to do this can be found in your router’s help manual. Also make sure to change the password for your router from the default one (usually, “admin”), so these same people can’t get into your router and look up your security codes.
  • Some web browser add-ons and plug-ins, even those which aren’t intentionally malicious, can slow down web browsing. A quick way to determine if this is the issue is to download an alternative browser -- Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Apple Safari -- and see if you have the same speed problems. If the problem goes away with the new browser, continue to use it or go back to your old browser and remove any add-ons or plug-ins you've recently installed.
  • The problem may be with the line into your home or your modem. Contact your ISP to have them test your line and equipment.


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If You're Still Having Problems

Performance issues can be difficult to resolve, especially if you're not a computer expert. If the steps above don't help and your performance issues are becoming a serious problem, you may want to check out an online support service. Click here to see our article on recommended providers.

Discussion loading


From jess8 on May 09, 2010 :: 11:11 pm

Thanks Techlicious!  That was fun to test my bandwidth…and disappointing.


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