Why is my fast internet so crappy?
October 11, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me troubleshoot my internet connection so that I can avoid taking time off work to sit around waiting for a tech from the cable company! (please?)

OK, I have cable internet from Charter. When I moved to my current apartment (a few months ago) I started with their 8Mbps connection, then I recently "upgraded" to 16Mbps, and then downgraded to 1Mbps but I have never noticed a difference in the connection quality or speed through *any* of this (that's why I downgraded - figured that if I was going to have lousy service, I might as well pay as little as possible). If I test the connection speed with a website like speedtest.net or geeksquad.com I get ~20Mbps download and 2Mbps upload speed - the same when I was getting 8Mbps, 16Mbps, or now 1Mbps. Since, in theory, that's more than I was *ever* paying for, and way more than I'm paying for now, you would think I'd be happy, but it just doesn't work right and never has.

By this I mean: websites will often (though not always) hang for a very long time, like over a minute or until I get bored and decide to go wash the dishes or something. I never noticed behavior like this at my old apartment, where I was paying for a similar level of service from Comcast.

Also, I like to use my TiVo to watch Netflix movies, but they are usually too jerky to watch. This also never happened with the old connection. I can usually get Netflix streaming to work on my computer, but even then it's not uncommon for it to stop mid-movie and say that my internet connection has slowed.

Further info:
  • I am using a combo modem/wireless router (Motorola Surfboard SBG901) that I own. I did not use this router at my previous apartment. I really hope that the modem/router is not the problem, because it's too late to return it and I didn't get the warranty, but I am willing to face facts if absolutely necessary.
  • My primary computer is a newish MacBook Pro which worked beautifully on the previous connection. I have also used my work computer (brand new Windows Vista 64 laptop) on the current connection and I noticed some minor problems but I didn't try to test it for real. I pretty much always connect wirelessly. The TiVo is a TiVo HD, a couple years old, connected via Ethernet cable.
  • When I test the connection quality on pingtest.net it generally says that I have 50%-90% packet loss. However other websites say packet loss is nonexistent or minimal. When I ping sites from the Network Utility, when they work at all, they work perfectly, but I get nothing from some sites that I would have expected to work, e.g. apple.com. But I really don't know much about how ping works.
I know, tl; dr. But if anyone has any suggestions for ways I could troubleshoot this, especially in ways that minimize visits to my home by my extremely earnest ISP (six phone calls today about my dropping the service!), that would be so very much appreciated. My sneaking suspicion is that the problem is just that they don't offer very good internet service.
posted by mskyle to Computers & Internet (3 answers total)
I'd try connecting the Macbook directly to the modem+router with an ethernet cable and running the pingtest.net / speedtest.net to see how your results differ. I usually don't like modem+router combos because the router portion often is substandard and it's hard to troubleshoot when they're combined, although I don't know anything about this particular model.

I'd also check to make sure the router portion has the newest firmware. A newer firmware fixed a connection problem for me.

If you have the option of turning off the routing portion and just using it as a modem, I'd try a different wireless router to see if it improves matters. (Perhaps borrow a friend's and then buy one if it's successful?)

You might check your DNS settings too. I'd run the free google project Namebench. It will spit back some other DNS options which might be better for you.
posted by sharkfu at 5:23 PM on October 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations - I will try and do those!
posted by mskyle at 9:51 AM on October 12, 2010

Ping -- it's google's DNS server and it's super reliable. Also, leave the ping running by typing "ping -t"

Hit ctrl-c to stop it and get statistics after an hour or so.

Clear your browser cache/temporary internet files before running speed test. You can also try running the bandwidth test at mlab, which tests a different way than most speedtests do.

It sounds like you have a shitty connection to your isp, and i'm going to bet that you've got a problem with the wiring somewhere along the line that's causing your issues (or you are too far away from the CO).

Seconding taking the router out of the picture and connecting directly to the modem. Also, trying different computers. Anything you can do to eliminate possible causes.
posted by empath at 12:19 PM on October 12, 2010

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