Here's Why Your Internet is Slow Sometimes

Category: Networking

A reader asks: 'I notice that my Internet connection seems to slow to a crawl at certain times, for no apparent reason. Is it likely that I have a virus, or are there other possible explanations for the slowdowns?' Yes, several! Read on...

Diagnosing a Slow Internet Connection

Unfortunately, intermittent problems can be difficult to diagnose, because they are not easily reproducible. Many different things can cause your Internet connection to slow down. Some of them are within your control, but many are not. Here are some of the common causes for slow Internet connections.

Too many users sharing one Internet connection can slow everyone to a crawl. If you are sharing a connection over a home network, you may experience slowdowns when others in the house are using Youtube, streaming a movie, or playing a graphics-intensive online game. If you have a cable modem, you are sharing a connection with other households in your neighborhood. If the slowdowns happen between 3pm and 4pm, around the time that kids are geting home from school, or weekday evenings between 8pm and 10pm, it's likely that your cable TV company has oversubscribed the equipment that serves your area. Note that a fiber-optic solution such as Verizon FIOS will not be susceptible to this type of problem.

An unknown program may be downloading or uploading data in the background without your knowledge. It might be something innocuous, like a backup operation, Windows Update, or it could be a virus, trojan, or other type of malware program. If your computer is ensnared in a botnet, it could be pumping out volumes of spam without your knowledge. See What Is a Botnet? for more on that. Scan your system with anti-malware software to uncover such problems.

Slow Internet Connection

Outdated software can result in a slow Internet connection. Make sure your operating system is up to date with the latest bug fixes and security patches. Visit the Windows Update website and see my related article Keep Your Software Updated (or else...)
to make sure everything is up to date.

Another possible issue could be a data cap. Some service providers will "throttle" your connection speed if you exceed your monthly allotment of data. This happens more often on mobile phones and satellite internet connections, but can also happen on wired home internet service. Check with your service provider if you think your speed may have been slowed down due to a data cap issue.

Checking Under The Hood

You can check your Internet download and upload speeds with You may find out that your actual speed is much lower than what you service provider has promised!

A slow Internet connection may be part of an overall PC performance drop. Your computer may need some general maintenance. My tips on Seven Free PC Maintenance Tools will help you find software to use for those tasks.

A misconfigured router may slow down your connection. Reboot the router to see if that will clear up the problem. You can also try resetting the router to its factory defaults and configuring it all over again. Networking hardware is pretty durable but a router or network adapter can fail. Often hardware dies a slow death, with gradually slower connection speeds being one of the symptoms. Try a different router or network adapter to see if that helps. I had a cable modem that just seemed to get tired after running for a few days. Turning it off and then on again solved my sluggish Internet connection problem, and after I got a replacement from the cable company, the problem was gone for good.

There may be a problem in the wire connecting your home to your ISP, or in the configuration of your ISP's equipment. Ask your cable or telephone company to conduct a line test. This may require scheduling a visit from a technician.

Sometimes there are traffic jams on the Internet; there's not much you can do about those. If some websites load speedily while others are slow, it could be there is a bottleneck between you and the slow-loading sites. Or the site you want to access could be bogged down with too many visitors. You just have to wait for the problem to be fixed, or try at some other time of day.

Slow Internet connections on mobile devices such as an iPad or smartphone are almost always caused by heavy network traffic or weak cellular signal. There's nothing you can do about network traffic except wait for it to subside. Moving outdoors and away from tall buildings can help you get a stronger signal. Satellite internet connections can be affected by heavy rains, thunderstorms, and solar activity.

Do you have other tips to help with slow internet connections? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Here's Why Your Internet is Slow Sometimes"

Posted by:

Robert Quance
12 Sep 2019

I have serviced a few slow internet problems for people in Syracuse, NY and most were caused by degraded coaxial cable either in the building or coming to the building. Squirrels are a big pest since the like to eat coax. sometimes and the other issues are water getting in the cable from a scratched spot on the cable or just plain badly installed connectors done by people without the correct crimping tools. On a side note, the use of aluminum is a terrible thing as it oxidizes and then cable signal loss goes up and up until your service is useless. This goes for Electric power lines too. My power was sagging really bad and found the problem was failing aluminum crimp splices on the poles and at my home. I am a retired Radio/TV Engineer so I had the equipment to verify these issues otherwise many cable and power techs. cannot figure these problems without help from older Line Techs.

Posted by:

Bob K
12 Sep 2019

Weak WiFi signals will really slow down connection speeds. For that, use a hard-wired connection, if convenient -- or move closer to your router/access point -- or maybe add another access point to your LAN.

Posted by:

Jonathan Skrine
12 Sep 2019

The usual reason for slow speeds in the UK is overselling by the ISP.

The worst one we ever had was the ISP selling us a speed a few times quicker than the modem they provided was capable of. Even when we had noticed the speed problem it took months before a sensible engineer asked for the name and model of our ISP supplied modem. As he'd been trying to work out what the hell was wrong for a few days himself (off and on obviously) the air went blue when he found out.

We had a subcontinental teleworker insist that we had a fully functioning full speed connection once, when he'd told us to unplug the modem and had forgotten that he hadn't told me to plug it back in. He'd already tried to blame the slow speed on 'the wifi' when my computer was hardwired to the modem/router.

ISPs are the hiding place for many used car salesmen who can no longer get jobs on car lots.

Posted by:

12 Sep 2019

Keep an eye on backups to the cloud, as well.

Posted by:

13 Sep 2019

For the past two years I've traveled about the country and so have had to depend on my cell phone's hot spot or a device that is only a hot spot even though it uses a phone number (through Straight Talk). To get any significant Internet access I try both and use the one that is faster. Sometimes neither pleases the nearest cell phone tower. Then I read a book.

Thanks for your useful comments.

Posted by:

Daniel Knorowski
13 Sep 2019

The phrase " If you have a cable modem, you are sharing a connection ...." got my attention. Are there studies comparing the service quality of Cable Vs. FIOS Internet?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't know if there are studies. But I do know that fiber gives each customer an "end to end" connection to the service provider, whereas cable users share a local exchange point.

Posted by:

13 Sep 2019

What if I cannot access one particular web site? I asked my ISP if they was blocking it and they said no. I also know that the web site is active as my neighbors can access it.

Posted by:

Daniel Knorowski
13 Sep 2019

Bob, Thanks for your response regarding FIOS Vs Cable. I have FIOS and it will remain as my Internet source.

Posted by:

Greybeard h
16 Sep 2019

I work from home, and I can tell--I "feel" it--when the school kids come home and start downloading their p*rn movies and the like. Not much I can do about that!

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