What do you do when the internet service suddenly gets really slow? Is it your computer? Is it your router? Or is it the internet provider? Where do you begin?
We recently suffered a radical slowdown in internet service. Since I am retired and do my writing from home, I do not have the benefit of triangulating an internet problem with my experience at the office. I also do not want to contact the support line of my internet provider. Their response time is generally slow. And it is important to remember that if the internet provider is experiencing trouble, they are more than likely getting swamped with calls. So it begs the question – how can I tell if the problem is me or the provider?
What do you do when the internet service suddenly gets really slow? Being down is one thing – you get nothing. But a slow internet is a bit more confusing because you will discover that some things seem to work well, while other things do not. In a recent incident, Alaska Communications Services experienced some serious problems with its internet service. My personal experience demonstrated the wonders of being Big Tech. YouTube and Amazon Prime worked just fine. Everybody else I tried was a disaster. My work on the Internet was also seriously throttled. State workers noted that video conferences were disrupted. Maybe it was the wrong conclusion, but it seemed that what little bandwidth was available, it went to major consumers such as Google and Amazon.
But … it also may simply be technology. Internet services are heavily dependent on domain naming systems (DNS) which correlate the name you type in the address bar of your browser with an IP address ( like a phone number ). That information is cached for a short period of time on those systems, so it is not always necessary for the servers to repeatedly reconnect to the sites you are using. Google and Amazon are obviously heavily utilized, so it is quite likely their DNS information is cached. Less used sites may not be cached and that could explain why connecting to those sites is very slow. It has to construct the link and it suffers in the same way you suffer. Worse yet, if the time it takes to complete the link to the site you are requesting takes too long, it may timeout and you will get a “Server Not Found” type error.
In the old days we would pick up the phone and inform the provider that we had a problem. But I learned a thing or two when supporting an enterprise network that stretched across the continent. If you can give the customer access to information, they might be able to figure out what is happening on their own rather than flooding customer support with phone calls. It may be much faster for them while releasing resources for the provider.
My provider is Alaska Communications Services. Their customer service is not all that bad once you get them on the phone, but they are suffering from the same industry pressures as all other providers. The telecommunications industry has been going through rough times. Part of the problem is the advent of 4G and 5G networks. The cell phone has replaced the computer as the primary computational tool. That means demand for copper and cable services is reduced. Almost nobody has a “land line” these days, placing all the revenue generation on internet services. That transition has not been smooth, resulting in financial losses, mergers and reduced customer services.
In summary, getting constructive help from your internet provider may be a bit challenging.
One solution is to keep on hand some tools you can use to do your own diagnosis. The thing about slow internet traffic is that it is not always easy to determine where exactly the problem resides. Is it your computer? Is it your router? Or is it the internet provider? Where do you begin?
I always start with the internet provider. Here is why. As a technical specialist on an enterprise system, I had an arsenal of monitoring tools that provided critical data on dropped connections or stressed connections. A quick check of the screen and I could usually provide an answer within seconds. The Help Desk was trained to do some diagnostics on their own, and from there they could escalate a case to the next tier. It did not take long for us to see that there was a problem and get some measure of the impact. The next step was critical. Help desk personnel had an action plan where information was distributed. Impacted groups were informed using various means of communication.
ACS uses one such tool. It is not overly sophisticated, but it acts as a proxy. It is a third-party web site called Down Detector that provides summary information regarding the provider combined with Twitter feeds from the provider. To their credit, ACS did a good job informing customers over Twitter. The chart at Down Detector clearly indicated something was up. But the Twitter feed was timely and clear.
The result is that I did not need to go further. It was not my router. It was not my computer.
I tested Down Detector entering another provider I use in Missouri. I was able to gather data on their status, but this particular company, Brightspeed, covered a much larger market than ACS, so I am not certain if a “slow internet” in Missouri could be explained by Down Detector. The other thing I noticed was that their Twitter feed was not as concise (probably because of the larger market they serve).
One suggestion is to go to your providers website or call support and ask them if there are monitoring sites that customers can access. See for yourself if there other social media platforms that your provider uses to communicate service issues or to provide tips. ACS lists these social media sites on their Customer Support page. The ones that are relevant to me are YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. One thing to keep in mind is that what is posted on social media platforms is usually audience-appropriate. For example, YouTube is replete with how-to videos. LinkedIn contains PR postings and job postings. Facebook and Twitter provide status reports.
What is suggested is that you bookmark each of these resources in your browser and file them under a folder that you can set up for your provider. The next time you experience a slow internet, you can go to that folder and easily find Down Detector. I utilize Firefox and my bookmarks are automatically synchronized with my cell phone. So if I am experiencing issues with my personal computer, I can use my cell phone to check the provider’s status because the phone is usually using a different provider and is utilizing 4G or 5G communication technology.
One thing I observed was that Down Detector came up rather quickly despite the internet being slow. So did the Twitter feed. The reason, as explained above, may be due to the fact that both of these sites are most likely cached in the ACS DNS server, so the IP address is already in the server’s memory.
Another thing to note is that unless you are using YouTube or Amazon, don’t expect images to load. If you must, you can configure your browser to exclude images. A more convenient suggestion is to simply order the rest of your day avoiding image-intense websites. If you must teleconference, switch to audio-only (you know, like they did in the old days five years ago 🙂 ).
© Copyright 2023 to Eric Niewoehner