Computers

How to get the internet performance you're paying for

Illustration photo. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Illustration photo. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

You’re paying a lot of money for your internet connection, whether it’s a basic 1.5-megabits-a-second package or a top-tier 100+Mbps screamer. It only takes a few minutes to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth-- and unfortunately, it's not always the case that you are.

If your internet feels like it’s dragging, it might not be you. There are several reasons for a slowdown, and I’m going to walk you through examining your connection so you can find the one affecting you. From there, you can talk to your internet provider to get it back to the level you’re paying for, or maybe get a break on your monthly bill.

Before we go into that, however, I’ll explain a common internet misunderstanding. While internet providers like to sell you on the idea that you’re paying for speed, and many people in the tech community talk about internet speed as well, what you’re paying for is bandwidth. While speed is a part of bandwidth, there’s more to it.

Say you’re watching an HD video on Netflix via a 50Mbps internet connection. The HD video is only going to be using a tenth of your connection’s capacity because that’s all it needs. Paying for a 100Mbps connection isn’t going to make the video smoother or higher quality.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of reasons to have more bandwidth. You can watch multiple Netflix videos while also playing games, checking Facebook, backing up your computer, streaming music, browsing the internet, and do other things simultaneously without hiccups.

In other words, having more bandwidth is like adding another lane to the highway. The speed limit is still the same, but you can have more cars traveling at top speed at once.

Even if you haven’t noticed a slowdown in your internet connection, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting all the bandwidth called for in your plan. You might just not be using your connection heavily enough to notice.

It’s still a good idea to run the tests. You might be able to scale back on your internet plan and save some month. Click here to learn more about making that decision and other ways to save on your Internet bill right now.

Test your internet connection speed

To get started, you need a way to measure your internet speed that’s a little more precise than, “Well, it seems slow.” One free testing service is Speedtest.net. It’s simple to use but gives plenty of detailed information.

Before you begin a Speedtest, make sure everything is properly set up. If you’re running Speedtest on a desktop or laptop, plug it directly into your router or cable modem. Don’t use a gadget on Wi-Fi since Wi-Fi has its potential speed problems that can skew results.

You should also make sure that none of your other household gadgets are using the internet. Stop any video streaming, file downloads or online gaming. You will get lower figures if something is hogging your connection while you are performing the speed test. By the way, if you want to know who is the bandwidth hog in your home, click here for the steps to uncover that mystery.

Go to Speedtest.net and click the green “Begin Test” button. It will automatically select the best server near you and then run tests to figure out your download and upload speed. Don’t worry if your upload number is much lower than your download speed. That’s normal.

Helpful reference: “Mbps” stands for Megabits per second and “kbps” stands for kilobits per second. 1,000 kbps is equal to 1 Mbps.

Once the test is complete, you can try it again or run another test with a different server. To use a different server, just hover over a green dot on the map screen and click on a server name or location. For the best speed comparison, it’s best to use the same server.

Reading your test results

One test isn’t going to tell you much. Run tests for a few days in the morning, noon or afternoon and evening. If you’re up late, run tests then, too. You’re looking for any time-based slowdowns.

At the top of the Speedtest page, click the “My Results” link to see your past speed tests. The chart depicts how your speed is changing over time.

If the numbers are fairly consistent, match them to the numbers your provider says you should be getting. It won’t match exactly, but if the average is 75% or less of what your provider advertises, you need to call the company and alert them to the problem.

If the speed is 50% slower, ask to pay the same amount as the next tier down. In both cases, politely request for a prorated credit on your account or other concessions.

If you have inconsistent numbers based on the time of day, see how the highest number compares to your internet plan. You might have another problem with your connection.

If your modem is more than a few years old, there are faster and more reliable standards. It’s never worth renting a modem from your provider. Buy your own to save money. Click here for my modem buying guide.

The same holds true if your router is older. Click here for a review of the best routers to speed an internet connection. You can even try a few settings tweaks of your own, such as changing the DNS settings.

Don’t be afraid to shop around for another connection. If there aren’t any other cable providers in your vicinity, and your provider is being unhelpful, consider complaining on social media. That seems to get the right people’s attention.

Finding the best tech solution is one of things I discuss on my national radio show. From buying advice to digital life issues, be sure to listen or download the podcasts.  Click here to find your local radio station. If you are looking for topics about everything digital that you can listen to on your phone, tablet or computer, click here for my free podcasts.

Copyright 2016, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show as she takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle. Visit Komando.com for free podcasts, videos, product reviews, shows, tips, and advice.