What's up with my connection?
February 26, 2007 11:42 AM   Subscribe

My cable modem slows down inexplicably at night. How can fix this?

I'm in NYC and use roadrunner (Time Warner) cable for internet access. During the day, up to 6-7 PM I have great speed (testing in at 4-5 Mbps - right now on the speakeasy speed test I'm getting download speeds of 5044 kbps and upload speeds of 482 kbps). However from 7 PM-1 AM or so the speed slows down to 200-100 Kbps or less. Understandably, this makes surfing or downloading anything hard or impossible.

Is there something I can do about this? Or is just a fact of life with cable modems that when more people are home using their internet connections (which I assume is the reason for the slowdown) my connection becomes unusable for anything except basic, non-graphics intensive surfing.

I'm on a wifi connection (secured with WEP and MAC protection) with Windows XP. I have two roommates, but I've confirmed with them that they're not using bittorrent at night or anything.
posted by jourman2 to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
If you are experiencing that much of a slowdown, I'd say it's one of two things:

1. Someone has cracked your Wifi and is using it. Try resetting the password again and testing the speed.

2. Your ISP doesn't provide enough bandwidth. I'd call them and tell them about the problem. If they cannot do anything to fix it, consider upgrading to a higher capacity pipeline or switching ISPs altogether.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2007

ahem, "How can I fix this"

stupid brain
posted by jourman2 at 11:50 AM on February 26, 2007

Additionally, and this is purely from experience, but my father had the same issue with his Mac. What we came to find out what that our ISP had changed something with the way they routed DNS from Macs. He used an online DNS routing service and it fixed the problem immediately. You may want to consider this before upgrading to a more expensive package, even though you are not using a mac. Can't hurt to eliminate all variables before forking out the extra cash, because you never know what screwy things your ISP may be doing with how they handle their subscribers.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:51 AM on February 26, 2007

I'm in Brooklyn, with the same service and I notice the same thing from time to time. It often slows down to the point of uselessness. I had decided this was a problem with the outside line, because I notice when it's windy or wet my service drops out a lot. But maybe the lines are indeed overburdened.
posted by miniape at 11:52 AM on February 26, 2007

Isn't the avaliable bandwidth out of a cable trunk one of those "Zero-Sum" situations? Meaning, for a certain neighborhood there is only a certain amount of "pipes" avaliable to that neighborhood. Evening would be when everyone is home logging in to their Jib-Jabs and Gootubes or whatever so your avaliable bandwidth is splt many more ways.
posted by sourwookie at 11:54 AM on February 26, 2007

It's not just your roommates that you're sharing your highspeed connection with. It's hundreds (thousands?) of people. These slowdowns are part of the architecture of cable modem bandwidth. There's lots of porn watching (or whatever) going on in your neck o the woods in the later evening hours. And your ISP can't handle it. Here's a cite, with some of the same info.

There's no fix for this per se. You'll need a dedicated line if you want consistent bandwidth. Note the tiny-text on your contract that says things like "...Up to [ridiculous speed]!!"
posted by zpousman at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2007

"What we came to find out what that our ISP had changed something with the way they routed DNS from Macs."

This sounds like complete bullshit. Your ISP isn't doing any special "DNS routing" that only affects Macs. If you have any evidence to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

jourman2: This has been an issue with cable providers all over the country. They oversubscribe like crazy, and having a few people come home and launch Bittorrent or Kazaa can really slow things down. I'm in California and we had the exact same problems with Comcast.
posted by drstein at 12:03 PM on February 26, 2007

Isn't the avaliable bandwidth out of a cable trunk one of those "Zero-Sum" situations? Meaning, for a certain neighborhood there is only a certain amount of "pipes" avaliable to that neighborhood.

Exactly. Lets say your neighborhood has 100 pipes of bandwidth. During the day, when everyone's at work. only 4 people are on meaning each person can get 25 of the pipes available. Life is good. However, at night during peak hours, you might have 200 people online meaning only 1/2 pipe is available to each user. The effects can obviously be dramatic as you describe.
The question is can anything be done about it? Depends. I had Charter and experienced you issues. They didn't care as a resident, but they've been very responsive now that I'm signed up with their business division. I would call TW with your issue and see if anything can be done.

This was also a huge problem in college. I started at the eve of Napster and it seemed everyone was file sharing killing the bandwidth available to most people as drstein refers to. A bunch of us went dial-up because it was horrendous. Eventually, the IT department blocked ports for file sharing which helped out quite a bit.
posted by jmd82 at 12:14 PM on February 26, 2007

That said, though, it does sound like your dad was fed a line of bullshit. There is no such thing as special Mac DNS, or "online DNS routing services."

I suspect by "online DNS routing services" the GP meant something like http://www.opendns.com/. Not really an 'online service,' but basically a DNS service that's not affiliated with any ISPs. I use them and have noticed a (small) speedup on some DNS requests, although other people have noticed the opposite. All depends on how well-managed your ISP's DNS servers are, I suspect. (Mainly, how big their cache is.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:38 PM on February 26, 2007

Well, assuming they are not overselling the service you can do the following:

Next time it slows down unplug the wireless router. Unplug every computer from the modem. Plug your computer in directly to the modem with an ethernet cable. Reboot. Reboot the modem too. Now do your speed test. If its still bad you can rule out wireless, roomies, router, etc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:09 PM on February 26, 2007

Assuming your neighbors are having similar problems, you should bitch to the cable company on a regular basis until they fix the problem.

Yes, the amount of bandwidth available on a given segment is limited, yes you are sharing that with hundreds of other users. Still, the cable company can break a single overtaxed segment into multiple segments (or make more bandwidth available to data on that single segment).
posted by Good Brain at 1:15 PM on February 26, 2007

Assuming bitching fails (which in many areas it will) you could also switch. Leave the cable company behind and switch to DSL or, if you are lucky enough to have it (and I hate you if you are) Verizon's FIOS service. FIOS is blazingly fast -- more than enough for all your pr0n downloading needs. DSL can also be very fast and very reliable these days and can also be reasonably priced, though it's usually not all three. I use Speakeasy, which is extremely reliable, very fast and reasonably cheap. Its also run by geeks, at least on the tech side, which I like. If you get sick of cable and they serve your area, I would recommend them.
posted by The Bellman at 1:20 PM on February 26, 2007

To sum up the suggestions are:
1 - complain
2 - complain some more
3 - cut out my neighbors cable lines
4 - switch services

Anything else?
posted by jourman2 at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2007

Anything else?
Well how about testing damn dirty ape's suggestion? So you can be certain that the problem is really what most people here are suggesting.
posted by philomathoholic at 6:18 PM on February 26, 2007

Anything else?
If you are downloading things at night, how about using a download manager that will schedule downloads during the day (non-peak times)? Or leave your computer on to download the files overnight.
posted by philomathoholic at 6:21 PM on February 26, 2007

Thanks philomathoholic - but I already ruled out some sort of computer problem when I did the same speed test on my roommates computer. Also I've tried rebooting the modem/wireless to no effect. I doubt it's something with the wireless router because it works perfectly fine a couple of hours (i.e. the 4-5 Mbps download speeds until 7 PM or so).

Also thanks for the download manager suggestion, but my general problem is with going to any website beyond basic text + small pictures in this time period as the load times become reminiscent of dial up.
posted by jourman2 at 7:54 PM on February 26, 2007

Here's a remote possibility... We had a similar problem where our cable modem would fizzle out and get unusably slow every single night.. Not the exact same time each day, but definitely each evening. Eventually it started dying completely, so we called the cable company. It turned out to be a signal strength issue that was worsened by moisture (once it got cooler in the evenings) at the cable box. They replaced some hardware in the cable box up the street and everything's back to normal.

It may be unlikely, but they can usually test the signal to your cable modem remotely, so if you call them up while it's happening, tech support may be able to rule it out.
posted by everybody polka at 9:26 PM on February 26, 2007

I was having this same exact problem a few weeks ago. My computer would lag dramatically every time I was on a website that had any pictures. The pictures would load, but only after several minutes. I called Comcast. They did some diagnostic thingy with my modem and said it was nothing wrong with the equipment.
I then switched my DNS settings to those at opendns.com and voila! Problem solved. I've not had any serious lag issues since. My only problem now seems to be when I'm surfing YouTube. Videos can sometimes playback a bit choppy.
posted by noir at 5:45 PM on February 27, 2007

This is a very interesting thread. I've been having cable internet problems myself lately, and now I've got a couple of things to try tonight. Nice info here.
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on February 28, 2007

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