How to Test Your Internet Connection Speed

Do you know how fast your high-speed connection should be? Have you purchased that “Premium” super fast DSL or cable modem package but never checked whether your hard-earned dollars are actually getting you close to the download and upload speeds advertised?

During our trip to Chicago earlier this month, I was chatting with my sister-in-law and her husband about their SBC/AT&T-provided DSL connection. The download speed seemed a bit off while I was leeching off their Wi-Fi and I asked what package they had purchased. She said they have the Pro package. A quick visit to a high-speed Internet comparison site for all the largest vendors told me how fast their connection should have been…3 Mbps (megabits-per-second). I am a broadband snob and I know 3 Mbps and I knew they were nowhere close. To see how fast their connection actually was I ran a quick, free and easy test. I highly encourage you to follow the steps below right now to ensure you are getting what you should be getting.

Here are the steps:

  1. Close all the programs on your computer (except the browser you are using to read this).
  2. Click the following link which should open in a new browser:
  3. Select the “Flash 8 plugin based speed test” option.
  4. Double-click the first entry in the list that has test slots available (Figure 1).
  5. The test should take less than a minute to run and show you the results (Figure 2).
Figure 1. Sample DSL Reports Speed Test sites
Figure 2. Sample DSL Reports Speed Test results

Now compare the “Download Speed” and “Upload Speed” results reported to what you have purchased. It’s normal for the rates to be off 10-20% and they do fluctuate, so you may want to run the test several times at different times of the day. (Late evening is often the best time of day to see your max speeds.)

In the case of my sister-in-law, their download speed was 10X slower than it should have been! They called AT&T, and I spoke to the tech support guy on their behalf. I simply explained they were not getting anything close to the speed they should have been getting from their high-speed Internet connection. He had me run another test using the 2Wire Speed Meter (also quick, free and easy). It reported the same 10X shortfall. The tech confessed it was bizarre that the speed was so slow but it was Saturday so he had to open a trouble ticket that would have to wait until Monday. The call took under 10 minutes.

They had been paying top dollar for over 6 months for a connection slightly better than dial-up. What is sad is the cable/phone companies do not test line speeds periodically to ensure they are providing quality service. That is left as an exercise for the customer.

I spoke to my sister-in-law’s husband (brother-in-law-in-law?) the following Monday and he told me AT&T had resolved the problem and their connection was now closer to the expected speed and they would be seeking a partial refund for the months of poor service.

So a 1 minute test and a 10 minute phone call resulted in a 10X improvement in their download speeds. If you spend any significant amount of time online (which you probably do if you are reading this) a faster Internet connection can literally give you back hours/days/weeks of your life. Happy surfing!