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Home / Tips and Tricks / Why is my Wi-Fi slow? How to fix your internet connection in five steps

Why is my Wi-Fi slow? How to fix your internet connection in five steps



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Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Months into the coronavirus crisis many of us depend more than ever on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to make long days stuck in lively. It makes it all the more annoying when a show crashes and stops right at the peak thanks to poor Wi-Fi. The collective moans, it held its breath as a 99% charging booth, the kids who cried for Elsa or Moana to come back: All of these could be avoided if the internet just stayed stable. But unfortunately, steady internet is rarely our reality, and in many areas, options for Internet service providers are too limited to solve the problem by simply switching companies.

What's worse, with last year's Supreme Court decision refusing to hear a complaint about network neutrality, ISPs can still legally throttle your internet, restrict your broadband if you stream more YouTube or Hulu than they would and provide slower connections to websites owned by their competitors. Fortunately, there is a solution to some of these problems : the virtual private network. Basically, ISPs need to see your IP address to slow down your internet, and a good VPN will protect that identity (although it comes with some drawbacks that I discuss below). Here's how to find a VPN and use it to check if your Internet Service Provider is artificially slowing down your Internet.

Read more: The best Wi-Fi extender for almost everyone

Step 1

Run through the usual troubleshooting methods

So your Wi-Fi is slow and you think your service provider will erase your connection. Before jumping to these conclusions, it is important to go through the usual troubleshooting list: Make sure your router is centrally located in your home, reposition the antennas, double check the network security, and so on. If you want to learn more ways to optimize your Wi-Fi, read our suggestions.

If you have gone through the laundry list and your Wi-Fi is still chugging, skip to the next step.

Step 2

Test Your Internet Health

Screenshot by David Priest / CNET

Once you have made sure that there are no simple explanations for your Wi-Fi topics, you can get a more in-depth measurement of the health of your internet in several ways. I suggest starting with a simple test through M-Lab. This will check your connection speed and essentially measure if your ISP provides consistent performance no matter what content you access. This measurement is not perfect, but it is a good starting place.

Step 3

Finding a Reliable VPN

Norton

If you have done a basic first test on your Internet health, and you still think something may be wrong with your Internet service provider, start researching VPNs. There are dozens of reasons to get one, and just as many factors to take into account when searching for the best virtual private network, such as security, price, and server locations. Fortunately, we have already done that work for you. Check out our suggestions here:

CNET's choice for best VPN.

Step 4

Compare your speed with VPN.

Screenshot by David Priest / CNET

Then test your internet speed somewhere like Fast.com or Speedtest.net. Compare the results with the same test when your VPN is active. The use of any VPN should significantly slow down your speed, so the speed tests should show a deviation, with the VPN active speed being especially slower than the VPN inactive speed. But a VPN also hides the IP address the vendors use to identify you, so if your speed test with VPN is faster than without a VPN, it could mean that your ISP is directing your IP address for restriction.

Step 5

Fix your internet

Screenshot by David Priest / CNET

OK, this is the hard part. Even if you find out that your provider is erasing your internet, there may not be much you can actually do. Many people in the US live in regions with ISP monopoly or duopoly, so you may not be able to find a better provider. But here are some useful answers:

  • If you have have options, use the best provider in your area. Measurement laboratory is a good resource for finding information that is specific to your region and that can lead you to a more reliable ISP.
  • Use your VPN to maintain more consistent speeds. A VPN may not resolve a bad connection or other reasons behind your slow service, but it can mitigate throttles from unscrupulous Internet service providers.
  • Call your provider and threaten to switch provider if they do not stop strangling your internet. This may seem old-fashioned, and I cannot guarantee lasting results, but the suppliers have responded positively to such tactics when I have used them.

Correction, February 10, : This article previously distributed last year's net neutrality ruling to the Supreme Court, rather than the DC Circuit Court that decided the case. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.


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