Shenanigans: is defined as the deception or tomfoolery on the part of carnival stand operators. In the case of Internet speed, claims made in the latest Wall Street Journal article, the tomfoolery is in the lack of details on how these tests were carried out.
According to the article, all the providers tested by the FCC delivered 50 megabits or more of bandwidth consistently for 24 hours straight. Fifty megabits should be enough for 50 people to continuously watch a YouTube stream at the same time. With my provider, in a large metro area, I often can’t even watch one 1 minute clip for more than a few seconds without that little time-out icon spinning in my face. By the time the video queues up enough content to play all the way through, I have long since forgotten about it and moved on. And then, when it finally starts playing again, I have to go back and frantically find it and kill the YouTube window that is barking at me from somewhere in the background.
So what gives here? Is there something wrong with my service?
I am supposed to have 10 megabit service. When I run a test I get 20 megabits of download enough to run 20 YouTube streams without issue, so far so good.
The problem with translating speed test claims to your actual Internet experience is that there are all kinds of potentially real problems once you get away from the simplicity of a speed test, and yes, plenty of deceptions as well.
First, lets look at the potentially honest problems with your actual speed when watching a YouTube video:
1) Remote server is slow: The YouTube server itself could actually be overwhelmed and you would have no way to know.
How to determine: Try various YouTube videos at once, you will likely hit different servers and see different speeds if this is the problem.
2) Local wireless problems: I have been the victim of this problem. Running two wireless access points and a couple of wireless cameras jammed one of my access points to the point where I could hardly connect to an Internet site at all.
How to determine: Plug your computer directly into your modem, thus bypassing the wireless router and test your speed.
3) Local provider link is congested: Providers have shared distribution points for your neighborhood or area, and these can become congested and slow.
How to determine: Run a speed test. If the local link to your provider is congested, it will show up on the speed test, and there cannot be any deception.
I have done enough testing first hand to confirm that my provider caches heavily trafficked sites whenever they can. I would not really call this a true deception, as caching benefits both provider and consumer; however, if you end up hitting a YouTube video that is not currently in the cache, your speed will suffer at certain times during the day.
How to Determine: Watch a popular YouTube video, and then watch an obscure, seldom-watched YouTube.
Note: Do not watch the same YouTube twice in a row as it may end up in your local cache, or your providers local cache, after the first viewing.
2) Exchange Point Deceptions
The main congestion point between you and the open Internet is your providers exchange point. Most likely your cable company or DSL provider has a dedicated wire direct to your home. This wire, most likely has a clean path back to the NOC central location. The advertised speed of your service is most likely a declaration of the speed from your house to your providers NOC, hence one could argue this is your Internet speed. This would be fine except that most of the public Internet content lies beyond your provider through an exchange point.
The NOC exchange point is where you leave your local providers wires and go out to access information from data hosted on other provider networks. Providers pay extra costs when you leave their network, in both fees and in equipment costs. A few of things they can do to deceive you are:
– Give special priority to your speed tests through their site to insure the speed test runs as fast as possible.
– Re-route local traffic for certain applications back onto their network. Essentially limiting and preventing traffic from leaving their network.
– They can locally host the speed test themselves.
How to determine: Use a speed test tool that cannot be spoofed.