SLOW Internet? Here's Why...

Category: Networking

A frustrated AskBob reader says: “My Internet connection is usually pretty fast, but sometimes it slows down to a crawl, for no apparent reason. Do I have a virus, is it a WiFi problem, or are there other possible explanations for the slowdowns?” Yes, several! Read on for my advice on diagnosing (and fixing) a slow Internet connection...

Diagnosing a Slow Internet Connection

It's the nature of intermittent problems that they 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 "high speed" connection on your home network, you may experience slowdowns or stuttering (buffering) when others in the house are using Youtube, streaming a movie or TV show, or playing a graphics-intensive online game. My wife and I have seen this happen when we were streaming a TV show, and our son was playing World of Warcraft in another room.

Slow Internet Connection

Did you know... if you have cable Internet, you are sharing a connection with other households in your neighborhood? If the slowdowns happen around the time that kids are getting 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.

This type of slowdown is unique to cable internet, because the service provider may not have allocated enough bandwidth for a particular neighborhood. If the connection becomes saturated when many people are using the service, speeds will drop. A fiber-optic solution such as Verizon FIOS will not be susceptible to this type of problem, because each subscriber has an "end-to-end" connection to the central office.

An unknown program may be downloading or uploading data in the background without your knowledge. It might be something innocuous, like a cloud 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. Run a "deep scan" with your anti-malware software to uncover such problems.

Outdated software can result in a slow Internet connection.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 Here's Why You Must Keep Your Software Updated (and how to do it for free) 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. Some service providers limit download speeds during peak usage times, or if a user has recently downloaded a large amount of data.

This can happen even with "unlimited" data plans, which throttle you to super-slow "2G speeds" when you've used your bucket of high-speed data. Sure, you still have unlimited data in theory, but it's like driving a car that can only go 10 MPH on a superhighway. 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 Need a PC Tuneup? Free PC Maintenance Tools will help you find software to use for those tasks.

A misconfigured router or overheated modem 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, after waiting a bit solved my sluggish Internet connection problem. Was it overheating, or was it clogged with transitory cybergunk? Who knows? I got a replacement from the cable company, and the problem was gone for good.

Along those lines, older routers and modems may not support the latest internet speeds. If you're not getting the download speeds you're paying for, and your router/modem is more than 5 years old, asking your ISP to swap out your hardware for a newer may resolve speed issues.

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. A few years back, my cable internet service was intermittent, and a technician discovered that the incoming cable was rubbing against a tree branch, causing it to fray. Squirrels also seem to enjoy nibbling on Internet infrastructure.

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 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 cellular signal. Wifi may be spotty in certain areas of your home. A signal booster/extender can help with this issue. (See How to Boost or Extend Your WiFi Signal.) Satellite internet connections can be affected by heavy rains, thunderstorms, and solar activity.

Electronic devices such as microwaves, cordless phones, and baby monitors, and even older fluorescent lights can interfere with your WiFi signal.
Smart home devices like smart bulbs, thermostats, wireless speakers and other connected gadgets can also add to the congestion on your WiFi network. If you live in an apartment building, changing the WiFi channel on your router to avoid overlap with neighboring networks may help.

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 "SLOW Internet? Here's Why..."

Posted by:

21 Jun 2024

It might be a good idea to fully use wired connections in your home network.I know it is inconvenient to put in Cat6 cables for runs to your router or switch,but you will avoid most of the problems wireless connections encounter.

You will avoid interfering signals from your neighbor's wi-fi system,your kitchen's microwave oven and snooping wi-fi troublemakers who want to break in to your system.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2024

I believe it's because I have a VPN, but my ISP will throttle me back to under 90Mbps. I simply unplug my network cable for about 5 seconds and plug it back in. My normal speed is restored. Happens at least once per day.

Posted by:

Rad Ische
22 Jun 2024

It may be the computer download is slowed by slow upload speeds at the other end.

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