100 Internet Speed Test & ISP Review Tips
It’s a safe bet to assume you have internet access if you’re reading this right now. However, it’s not as easy to know whether your internet service provider (ISP) is decent or lousy. With so many companies competing for your business, how do you know if your ISP measures up in the long run? Here are 100 ways to help you figure out if your ISP is out for you, or just out for your money.
Speed and Performance
Nowadays, one of the most important things for an ISP to offer is a high-speed connection. No one wants to sit for what feels like an eternity while you wait for a page to load. ISPs love to advertise their speed, but are you sure they’re being honest? There are ways to find out how fast your connection really is.
- Speedtest.net offers an interactive test to show you your download and upload speeds.
- Pingtest.net, a sister site of speedtest.net, tells you how well you can expect internet applications to work, provided you have sufficient bandwidth.
- Speakeasy.net offers as speed test for download and upload speeds. Its list of cities is limited, so choose the one that’s closest to you.
- McAfee’s website offers a free speed test called the Internet Connection Speedometer.
- CNET offers a bandwidth meter on the “Reviews” section of its website.
- Bandwidthplace.com offers a speed test, as well as information on what range is considered good and what range is poor.
- Testmyspeed.com provides a speed test and links to performance scans.
- Internetfrog.com offers a free test, as well as data averages in your area from your ISP.
- Myspeed.visualware.com has multiple tools for testing features such as speed, firewall efficiency, and quality.
- DSLreports.com has tools for testing speed and links to information about the different types of speed tests.
- Broadband.gov provides a free speed testing application courtesy of the FCC.
- Performance.toast.net offers a number of speed tests, depending on the type of internet connection you utilize.
- If you have difficulty understanding the results of your speed tests, myconnectionserver.com has a great explanation of what speed test results mean under their “Resources” heading.
- Myconnectionpc.com provides a free trial of testing software. The software doesn’t just test your connection speed; it also analyzes your network and the quality of your connection.
- Nirsoft.net has an application called Download Tester that checks the download speed of the URLs of your choice anywhere in the world.
- Is your ISP throttling your connection? Are you sure? A tool called Glastnost can give you the answer. Bandwidth limiting by ISPs isn’t unheard of, but they should at least let you know they’re doing it, right? Note that this occurrence is most common with BitTorrent transfers.
- The Google-backed measurementlab.net offers multiple tools to detect internet problems with speed and throttling.
- If you notice a problem with your bandwidth, it is wise to check your ISP’s fine print regarding fair access policies. A fair access policy refers to the right of your ISP to limit your bandwidth when they feel you are “overusing” data transfer within a specified period of time.
- Don’t assume because your provider advertises “unlimited downloads” it really means unlimited. Again, it’s important to read the fine print regarding your ISP’s fair access policies.
- If you pay a premium for better download speeds, compare companies in your area for the same service. If you find one that offers a better deal, let your company know. If they won’t price match, or at least give you a discount, it may be time to switch.
- If you are looking for a boost to your internet speed, try getfullspeed.com. The software on this site isn’t magic; it simply optimizes your settings for a better internet experience.
- Another application for speed optimization is available through cbs-soft.com. Like getfullspeed.com, these applications optimize your computer settings for better download and upload speeds.
- If you pay a premium for better download speeds and all speed tests indicate you aren’t getting what you’re paying for, contact your provider. If they tell you they can’t do anything about your speed, then you shouldn’t be paying extra for what you aren’t going to get.
- When it comes to cable internet versus DSL, cable is faster than DSL. Why? Simply put, more data can travel through the cable than through a phone line.
- If you have DSL, understand that the farther away you are from the central office (from where the provider sends its signal), the weaker your connection will be. I don’t care what they promise you; if you’re 500 miles away, you may as well have dial-up.
Who doesn’t love sitting on hold for hours at a time? When you pay out the nose for a service every month, you probably want to be able to reach a living, breathing person in a short period. What about others who use the same ISP? Do they have a favorable opinion, or do they (and you) feel the service leaves something to be desired?
- JD Power & Associates keeps tabs on the highest rated ISPs by region; their website offers the top three providers per region and their ratings by customers.
- Consumersearch.com offers a service similar to JD Power; it presents ratings and information provided by customers of ISPs.
- Toptenreviews.com gives reviews of numerous ISPs and web services based on testers and users.
- How vast is the company’s online FAQ? This may seem like a silly thing to stress over, but a good company tries to answer as many questions as possible via online resources so you don’t have to spend hours on the phone.
- What is the time window for repairs if your connection goes down? It’s not unreasonable to get a time window of three to six hours; unforeseen events can delay repairmen. However, if the service rep says “They’ll be there at some point after 8 a.m.,” it may be time to find a new provider.
- Understand your ISP’s policy on cancellation of service. If you’re under contract, you will be stuck with a fee. Exercise caution; you may be told different things at different times during your cancellation call.
- Talk to your neighbors and friends to see if they use the same ISP as you. Are they happy with the service, or do all of you seem to experience the same problems over and over?
- If you discover your neighbors use the same service as you and all of you have trouble maintaining an internet connection, talk to your ISP about their ability to properly service your neighborhood. If they don’t have a strong enough signal to ensure everyone receives adequate access, it might be time to look into other internet options.
- Find out if your ISP requires you to enroll in a contract when you sign up for their service. Not all ISPs do; however, those that do make it far more difficult to cancel service if you wish to do so.
- ISPcompared.com provides a slew of information about various ISPs, including safety, customer satisfaction, and pricing.
- Are you sick and tired of dealing with an automated system? Gethuman.com gives the quickest routes to real, live humans for numerous ISPs. This can prevent you from explaining your problem to a machine and then again to a real person.
- Does your ISP reserve the right to sell your information to a third party? You may not think so, but many people have reported being contacted by similar companies after cancelling services with their ISP. It’s a form of viral marketing, and it’s legal. Don’t fool yourself into believing the DNC (Do Not Call registry) will prevent this; this type of marketing doesn’t count as “cold calling.”
- Don’t waste your time with surveys by your ISP about your experience. Often, they don’t let you grade your experience lower than “moderate;” this sort of system gives an overinflated outcome for those who are looking to sign up with your ISP. It may even lead you to believe you are the only one experiencing problems.
- How wide is the area serviced by your ISP? Sometimes, their service area can be affected by another company who owns the lines that service the region; other times, it may point to a low demand. If you want to move and keep your ISP, you may be faced with a problem. Find out how far-reaching your ISP’s services are.
- What features are offered with your ISP? Some ISPs offer parental controls, firewalls, virus protection, and more; others offer a connection and nothing else. If you feel that paying more for better service is worth it, you should compare what you have to what others offer.
- Find out if the ISP you’re looking into offers a free trial period. If you are already with an ISP and looking to switch, look for the same. Some offer a trial period to “test” their services. If they don’t match up to your expectations, no worries! You haven’t signed a thing, and you’re free to go.
- Does your ISP offer free games? How about music sharing, or at least, discounted music purchases? This may not be important to everyone, but it can be a big deal to others. Study the details of your ISP’s service information to find out what sort of extras are provided. You may be paying for a basic service and nothing else, while a comparably-priced ISP offers all sorts of goodies.
Okay, as previously stated, you’re probably paying a lot for internet access. Of course, “a lot” is a subjective phrase. Maybe to you it’s not a lot, but it still may be more than it’s worth. Never feel guilty questioning your ISP about their prices.
- Beware of an ISP’s advertised “special joining price.” It may sound low, but it’s usually only good for one year. Afterwards, your bill will increase. Read the fine print to find out how much of an increase you’ll see after the introductory period.
- Study your bill. Do you see charges you don’t understand? Don’t be afraid to ask what any added charges pertain to; a good provider will be happy to explain everything to you.
- Has your bill suddenly gone up without a change in service? A good ISP generally sends out a letter to let customers know of impending charge changes. If you didn’t receive a letter, consider this a warning sign of shady dealings.
- Do you rent your modem or router from your ISP? Chances are, you’re paying the price of the equipment many times over in rent. Consider buying the equipment at a retail store. You’ll spend less in the long run, and it will belong to you.
- Does your ISP charge you for customer support? Some do; to find out if yours does, check the fees and their definitions on their website.
- Be careful when your ISP offers a “bundling” discount. Unless you actually NEED the cable and phone services they provide, you’re going to pay around $120 when you only need $40 worth of services.
- You may pay a premium for cable internet when you’re only receiving speeds equal to that of DSL. If you can’t get the speeds you want with cable, and DSL is cheaper, it may be time to switch.
- Upon comparing your service with others that offer similar service, be sure to check things such as download speeds and free tech support. While a service may initially appear to be cheaper, you might end up paying more to have a bored-sounding person on the phone walk you through resetting your connection.
- Still wondering which internet service is cheapest for you? Check the reviews section of cnet.com. They have a tool that checks your address against the best internet deals. Keep in mind, these are the best prices, and don’t necessarily reflect the best internet service.
Safety & Security
Whether or not you have children who access the internet, internet safety is a major concern these days. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are accessing naughty sites; sometimes, security threats can be hiding in the most innocuous places. Does your ISP help protect you and you data?
- Many ISPs advertise additional features, such as antivirus software and watchdog programs for children’s internet use. Find out if your ISP provides these programs for free, or if they charge a monthly fee. Naturally, free is better!
- Find out if your ISP offers free online backup of computer files; if they do, ask how secure their storage is. Is the data encrypted? Will anyone besides you have access to the files?
- How secure is your email? If you use an ISP-provided address, ask about encryption. If a customer service rep can’t give you an adequate answer, ask to speak to someone in tech support.
- Does your ISP record your movements online? You may be surprised at the answer. If their website does not offer a clear answer to this question, contact their customer service board. Privacy is just as important as safety and security.
- It’s extraordinarily rare, but sometimes the security software that comes with your ISP contract will block websites you wish to visit. Providing the websites aren’t breaking any laws, your ISP shouldn’t have the right to limit where you can and can’t go on the internet. If you experience this, discuss it with your ISP. If they won’t fix it, look into other connection options.
- Does your ISP provide a free pop-up blocker? It might seem like such a minor thing, but pop-up windows can be loaded with spam coding and grayware that can slow your computer’s performance to a crawl. Good ISPs provide a pop-up blocker free as part of their services.
All right, so maybe you still have a problem that no one seems to be willing to fix. It’s unlikely you’re alone in the matter. Behold the power of consumer watchdogs!
- The first stop you should make in your search for complaints against your ISP is the Better Business Bureau’s website. Don’t use this site as your only source; the BBB is famous for sweeping complaints under the rug for companies that pay a fee to be members. Only use this site as a guide for general information.
- Consumer-action.org is a watchdog group that allows you to submit a complaint about a service or scam. This site tracks the trends in consumer complaints and offers “alerts” based on these trends.
- Scambook.com gives information on various types of scams, consumer complaints, and pending class-action lawsuits.
- Consumercomplaintagency.org lets you file complaints, check case statuses, and look up businesses and their ratings with others.
- Ripoffreport.com provides current information on lawsuits and scams regarding businesses and individuals across the country. You can search by location or by type of complaint.
- Ftccomplaintsassitant.gov does not take action against individual complaints; however, it collects complaints from consumers so that it can find trends and patterns against companies and take action as needed.
- Complaints.com lets consumers post complaints and view complaints by others; it also allows businesses to respond to complaints.
- Pissedconsumer.com offers consumer tips and a forum to post complaints about businesses and services.
- Consumeraffairs.com provides information on product recalls, recent complaints, and the most viewed/top complaints from consumers.
- Consumerreports.org lets you search for information on internet service providers and whether or not they are delivering what they promise. This site does require a subscription.
- Iripoff.com lets you post complaints and read comments by other consumers regarding businesses.
- Check with your state’s office of Consumer Affairs. You may be able to find information about other complaints filed against your ISP, or the ISP you’re researching.
Definitions to Know
Unless you’re really tech-savvy, there may be terms used by your service provider that you don’t understand. Here’s a list of some of the more common terms you may encounter and what they mean in easy-speak.
- ISP-an abbreviation for Internet Service Provider. This is the company that bills you for internet access every month.
- DSL- abbreviation for digital subscriber line. This is what you have if you receive your high-speed internet through a phone line.
- Kbps-kilobytes per second. This refers to your data transfer rate, and equals 1,000 bytes.
- Mbps- megabytes per second. This is equal to one million bytes.
- Gbps- gigabytes per second. This is equal to one billion bytes. Unless you’re paying an enormous amount of money per month, you won’t see a transfer rate in gigabytes.
- Transfer rate- this is the speed at which data passes back and forth between your computer and the destination on the other end.
- IP address-this is the unique number given to your computer by your ISP. It tends to change when you reset your network. It’s also how you can be tracked or identified on the web. If your IP address never changes, it is known as a static IP.
- IP-abbreviation for internet protocol. Simply put, this is a means of communication between computers and servers on the internet.
- LAN- abbreviation for local area network. If your provider asks about your LAN, they are referring to the computers hooked up to the internet in your home. They may also refer to this as a HAN (home area network).
- WiFi- this refers to a wireless network. If you have a router hooked up to your modem that allows computers in other rooms to use the internet, you probably have WiFi. WiFi sends out a signal via an antenna on the router, similar to a radio.
- Secured network- this means that anyone who wants to use your internet connection must have the password to the network. This is a great safety tool and can prevent against hacking and data theft.
- Modem- old-school modems were built into the computer for dial-up purposes. High-speed modems are external, and connect your computer to the internet via a cable or DSL line.
- Broadband- a term that can be used interchangeably with high-speed internet. A broadband connection is one that connects at a speed greater than 128 kbps.
- FCC fee- you’ve probably seen this on your monthly bill. The FCC collects fees from ISPs for its part in policymaking, enforcement, and so on. This is one thing your ISP CAN’T control.
- Access point-refers to where you are picking up your wireless signal on a wireless LAN.
- Amplifier- this is a device often used by your ISP to strengthen the signal sent to your home.
- Bandwidth-how much data can be pushed through a connection. Think of it as sausage stuffing, and your cable/DSL line is the sausage skin.
- Client- if you’re accessing information on a network, you are the client.
- Server-the person/place/station that is helping you access information on a network. The server stores the info on the network until you’re ready to use it.
- Domain/Domain name-if your ISP asks you what domain you are trying to access, they are asking about the main web address you are trying to reach. For example, Yahoo.com is a domain.
- Encryption-this is a form of communication that “scrambles” the data you are sending so that only the intended recipient can read it. Have you ever done those neat cryptograms in the newspaper? This is along the same lines, except in computer language.
- Firewall-your ISP might ask if you are behind one. A firewall is almost exactly what it sounds like; it’s usually a hardware or software “block” that protects your data and information from outside parties that might want to access your info for something unscrupulous.
- Internet gateway-this is more likely to apply if you are accessing the internet at work. A gateway computer connects a local area network to a larger network. Think of it as the “daddy” computer.
- Mhz-megahertz, or one million cycles. This refers to the power of your CPU. If your CPU (that big rectangular thing that’s part of your whole computer setup) is underpowered, it can present a problem with your internet connection, as well as application speeds. This can also be measured in gigahertz, or one billion cycles.
- Wireless network card-most commonly found in laptops. A wireless network card allows you to connect to your home network without the use of Ethernet cables or wires.
- POP or POP3- a fancy term for an internet protocol that lets you read mail from a specific server. For example, you can set up Microsoft’s Outlook or Outlook Express to “pick up” mail from a server on the internet. It’s like having a mailman deliver mail to your door instead of a community mailbox. Isn’t that great?
- Search engine-whatever you use to “browse” the internet. Examples are Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Your ISP might ask about this, as well as the version you have. You can usually find that out by going to the “Help” menu within the browser.
- TCP/IP-abbreviation for transfer control protocol/internet protocol. Fancy-speak for the language your computer uses to communicate with servers and computers around the world.
- URL-abbreviation for uniform resource locator. Think of it as a unique address or phone number for a website. If you’re having problems with your internet connection, your ISP may ask what URL you’re trying to reach.
- Webmail account- a fancy way of saying email account or email address. Some ISPs provide you with one of these free of charge.
- Service charge-these are charges you will see on your bill in addition to the general cost of internet access. These charges are included to cover the expenses of running the network and the lines to supply you with internet access.