In order to know whether or not you’re getting the most out of your Internet connection, you should occasionally test your connection speed. This is a fairly simple process that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. The low-income internet plans offered on CheapInternet.com promise at least 1 Mbps download speeds; upload speeds are considerably slower. But unless you are uploading files, which most people don’t do often, the upload speed doesn’t matter much. Non-subsidized internet plans can offer considerably higher speeds, depending upon what you are willing to play, and your type of connection (see What’s Faster: DSL or Cable Internet?.
While there are many online utilities that can test your Internet connection, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) speed test is one of the safest and accurate. Here’s what you need to do to use the FCC’s broadband speed test.
1. Visit http://www.broadband.gov/ and click “Consumer Broadband Quality Test.” You’ll have to enter your address to proceed to the actual test.
Note that the FCC uses the broadband quality test to collect general information about U.S. broadband Internet usage as a part of its National Broadband Plan. The test does not collect any sensitive information other than your address, and the FCC will not sell your information.
2. Click through the prompts to complete the test. When you’re finished, you’ll see a display with your connection’s upload speed, download speed, latency and jitter.
If the test doesn’t work for you, make sure that you have the latest version of Java installed. Java is a web app program that allows your browser to use certain interactive programs, and the FCC’s consumer broadband test uses Java exclusively. You can find the latest version of the Java software by visiting http://java.com. If you do not have the latest version of Java, the test will stall and won’t report accurate information.
Interpreting Your Results
Here’s some quick terminology to help you interpret your broadband speed test results.
Download speed – The speed at which your computer can transfer a signal from the FCC’s server, measured in kilobytes or megabytes per second (1000 kilobytes equal one megabyte). Your download speed is the main number that your Internet Server Provider uses to describe your plan, although most ISPs describe speed in terms of megabits per second, which is very different from megabytes per second–there are eight megabits in a megabyte.
Upload speed – The speed at which your computer sends data to the FCC’s server, measured in kilobytes or megabytes per second. Upload speed is usually slower than download speed because service providers build networks assuming that Internet users will want to consume more data than they contribute. If your upload speed is faster than your download speed, you might have connection issues.
Latency – The time it takes for data to travel from your computer to the FCC’s testing server and back, measured in milliseconds. A lower latency is better.
Jitter – The variability in your connection’s latency, measured in milliseconds. If you have a high jitter, your connection isn’t consistent.
Speeding Up A Slow Connection
If you see low numbers for your download and upload speeds or high numbers for your latency and jitter, you can take a few simple steps to get more from your connection.
- Make sure that your computer is up to date. Older computers might not have the necessary hardware to make the most of a broadband Internet connection.
- Look for big draws on your bandwidth. An entire household’s Internet connection will slow down noticeably while one computer downloads or uploads a large file.
- Try restarting your modem. Unplug both your modem and any routers you’re using to send your Internet connection to your computer. Leave them unplugged for at least five minutes. Plug your modem in first, then wait a minute before plugging in your routers. This will often fix intermittent connection problems.
- Note environmental issues. Your connection might slow noticeably during thunderstorms if you have ISDN, DSL or even a cable modem connection. Interference can also be an issue. If you use Wi-Fi, try moving your computer closer to your wireless router.
- Notify your ISP of any ongoing connection issues. Your Internet Service Provider can help you investigate other connection issues for a faster, more reliable connection.
- Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software are up-to-date (you have to subscribe to stay up to date), and run periodically.
Test your connection occasionally. If you regularly experience connection problems, after ruling out any techinical problems, look into getting a faster Internet package or a new modem. By understanding how your connection works and by testing your Internet speed, you’ll have a much better idea of how speed affects your Internet usage.