You’ve heard the rumors. Providers brag about lightning fast speeds, and streaming in HD without a whisper of latency. But where is this miraculous Internet service of your dreams? One that will allow you to live a fantasy digital life in the wonder of the cloud. The lone Internet Service Provider (ISP) provider in your area seems to bog down at the first sign of traffic, and if tech support tells you to reboot your modem one more time, you’re going to scream. Why isn’t there more choice and competition among Internet providers in your area? This isn’t an isolated issue. Most regions of the country are serviced by just a handful of big name broadband providers. Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable have massive footprints that loom over an inordinately large part of the map. When the FCC was considering approving a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable back in 2015, The Huffington Post warned that we would be facing “The United States of Comcast”. Today’s ISP map isn’t too far off that assessment, with four major ISPs eating up tremendous slices of the high-speed Internet market. Statistics from the FCC indicate nearly 30 percent of Americans don’t have a choice when it comes to their Internet provider. Another large portion of the public, which estimates place at 37 percent, only have two options. To get a better handle on what Internet service across the United States looks like, visit the National Broadband Map, maintained by the FCC and the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). How did we end up here, with limited choice and virtually no competition in large swathes of the United States? To answer that, you’ll need to understand how the Internet reaches your home. It’s a complicated digital exchange through a labyrinth of networks and providers that you’ve likely never heard of. Follow me down the rabbit hole for a minute, my friend and I promise you’ll emerge a savvier Internet consumer.  

How does the Internet get to your home?

Unlike the claims of some politicians, the Internet does not reach you through a series of tubes. It begins on the global level through a Tier 1 network– cable wires that cross continents and oceans, conveying digital pulses of light. Chances are, these do not belong to your local ISP. Much of this major infrastructure is owned by global companies like AT&T who then lease usage of those Internet pipelines to Tier 2 providers. Tier 2 providers are the major telecommunications companies across the nation that bring Internet from the global pipelines into metro and regional areas. Providers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox pay for transit on these uber fast global lines. Gizmodo gives a more detailed explanation of  Tier 1 and Tier 2 providers for those who might be interested in tracing the convoluted digital handshakes that transmit data from one part of the world to another. Much of the Internet delivered through Tier 2 providers is in fact broadband or DSL because that infrastructure already exists, humming below the ground and delivering your cable TV and phone service. Where your Internet bogs down and service slows is when data passes from these neighborhood hubs into your home. The telecommunications industry refers to this as “the last mile”. Much of this last bit of signal transmission is across ancient lines that have deteriorated over time and no longer support the speeds modern technology requires. Upgrading this piece of the infrastructure is the final challenge in ensuring high-speed Internet reaches every corner of the country, and it’s one of the big reasons there are isolated pockets of only one or two Internet service providers in large areas of the United States.  

Expensive Infrastructure

Upgrading that last mile of Internet infrastructure is a costly endeavor. While the utility poles are public property, the lines and wires are owned by specific companies that may have traded hands dozens of times over the years. If you are receiving DSL Internet, that technology comes into your home on ancient copper phone lines. These are likely the same lines installed nearly a hundred years ago when Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone. If you receive broadband internet, your home was likely wired to receive cable TV sometime between the 50’s and the 80’s. Because cable technology is more advanced, Internet via broadband delivers higher speeds. Neither technology approaches the capabilities of fiber-optic, however. The difficulty becomes the cost. DSL and Cable Internet providers utilize existing lines, sometimes paying to lease them from the original companies that still own them. Fiber-optic providers have to start fresh, absorbing the cost of running new lines and connecting each household to the larger network. Once they’ve made this investment, they’ll have to lure away a significant amount of the high speed Internet customers in that area to turn a profit. Cable and DSL providers will often simply undercut the new kid on the block by promoting package deals and bundles that price the fledgling company right out of the market.  

Regional Franchises

To further complicate the matter, there are some legislative actions that have encouraged the sparsity of providers. The 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act allowed cable service to be determined by each municipality. This resulted in a patchwork of regional providers that made cost-effective deals with certain cities, allowing them to control local pockets of service almost exclusively. During the 90’s consolidation of these markets began in earnest. It was more cost effective for smaller companies to merge and create larger entities that could cover a larger area of service. The Wall Street Journal documented how, in a matter of two decades, 40 regional providers coalesced into just four telecommunications giants. At that juncture, the Internet was still a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye, but the cable wires that would deliver broadband all across the nation were already in the hands of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cox.

A Natural Monopoly

It has been a perfect storm of expensive infrastructure, legislation, and growing media conglomerates that have resulted in what many industry experts refer to as a natural monopoly. Prohibitive costs and a consolidated network of providers effectively controls the market, making it virtually impossible to foster the healthy competition necessary to ensure better service and reduced costs for the average consumer. Many have argued that to bring cost-effective, high-speed Internet to more Americans, the government will have to intervene not only to incentivize innovation but also to help smaller companies make the necessary investments in infrastructure.   “The great danger to the consumer is the monopoly — whether private or governmental. His most effective protection is free competition at home and free trade throughout the world. The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him. Alternative sources of supply protect the consumer far more effectively than all the Ralph Naders of the world.” Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist   Frustrated with your provider and looking to make a change? Use our high-speed Internet provider tool to see a list of providers in your area, compare packages side by side, read real customer reviews, and decide which provider is the right one for you.   [zipfinder] Internet is a must-have utility for most renters and homeowners, with  of the population regularly getting online. But as much as consumers rely on having fast Internet access, they also want to find the best deal to keep their bills low. (TWC) is one of the most popular Internet providers, offering several affordable cable Internet plans for a variety of needs. If you’re looking for  than DSL but a lower price tag than a fiber-optic connection, read on to learn more about TWC’s inexpensive Internet options.  

What Is TWC’s Cheapest Package?

Cable Internet from TWC starts at just $1499 per month for speeds up to 2 Mbps. At around  faster than dial-up, 2 Mbps is sufficient for light Internet use, including web browsing, emailing and minimal music streaming. This speed will take significantly longer to handle large file transfers, video streams or online gaming.  

Will the Cheapest Package Work for Me?

If you only use the Internet sparingly, the cheapest Internet package may suffice. However, it’s not the best option for all consumers. If you’ve recently cut the cord, for example, you won’t be able to enjoy streaming services very easily. Your connection will also exponentially slow down if you have multiple household members using the Internet at the same time. So before you opt for the cheapest plan, it’s a good idea to assess exactly  you really need.  

Are There Better TWC Deals?

If you’re only looking for Internet, the package that offers both speed and affordability is the Turbo Internet package, which provides speeds up to 20 Mbps for just $4499 per month for 12 months. That’s 10 times the speed of the lowest package for just three times the price. With , most users can accomplish what they want online — whether they’re downloading large files, streaming movies or gaming with friends — without worrying about lag or the number of connected users.  

What If I Want Cable TV, Too?

For an even better deal, bundling multiple services with TWC usually results in substantial savings. The Double Play bundle, for instance, which runs just $11499 per month for 12 months, offers Internet speeds and cable TV channels that suit most consumer needs. With this package, you get up to 20 Mbps of download speed — just like the Turbo Internet package — and more than 200 cable TV channels and 18,000 On Demand titles. Even better, the Double Play package also includes DVR capabilities and access to select premium channels like HBO®, Showtime® and Starz® free for 12 months. The savings from the DVR services alone give this plan an edge over other cable and Internet provider offerings. Paired with the additional savings on premium channels, this is one of the better deals on the market. Time Warner Cable offers plenty of cable Internet and bundled packages. As you make your choice, however, don’t just opt for low prices — check to see which package offers the features you need to comfortably use the Internet at home. And if Time Warner Cable isn’t available in your area, search for another Internet provider that offers the service you need.   *Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas. We love the freedom Wi-Fi provides: once you get a taste of being able to connect to the Internet wirelessly, it’s hard to imagine going back to being tethered to a desk. But just because you’ve set up a home Wi-Fi network doesn’t mean it’s working as well as it could be.   The Lamp Test Placing your router right next to your desktop computer may sound like a good idea, but the computer itself can actually block the router’s signal. Hiding your router behind the TV or in a cabinet can have the same effect. Wi-Fi works best when you have direct line-of-sight between your router and your connected device: anything that gets in the way can lower the strength of your signal. Imagine your router is a lamp and its signal is the light emitted by the lamp. Any “shady” areas will probably experience worse Wi-Fi reception than those in direct light. You’ll still have a signal in those shady areas, just as you can still see in the shade, but the signal won’t be as strong.   Electrical Enigmas A wall and a couch can impede Wi-Fi signals, but electrical appliances can play a more active role: one of the main contributors to poor Wi-Fi performance is electrical interference. Your home is full of possible culprits, but many of the worst offenders are the ones that, like your router, produce radio waves: baby monitors and cordless telephones. Microwaves are another common source of Wi-Fi interference — they’re capable of degrading Wi-Fi speed by as much as 50 percent. Some of the factors that can reduce Wi-Fi performance are fairly obvious, but others might come as a surprise. For example, a fish tank: it’s harder for Wi-Fi signals to pass through water than air, so don’t put your fish between your router and a spot where you’ll frequently use your Wi-Fi. Lamps are another surprise offender: fluorescent lights can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.   Location, Location … Elevation Even if there’s nothing nearby to block your router’s signal, its location still matters. Placing it in one far corner of the house might be the most convenient location, but the most convenient location and the best location aren’t always the same thing. Every Wi-Fi router’s performance degrades with distance. If it’s in one corner of the house and you’re in another, your Wi-Fi may not be as fast and reliable as it could be. To get the best performance out of your Wi-Fi, place the router either in a central location, providing maximum coverage for your home, or close to where you actually use it most often. You can also unknowingly limit the quality of your Wi-Fi network by placing your router too low. Don’t leave it on the floor, or even worse, in the basement. Instead, place it as high as you reasonably can: the higher it is, the fewer obstructions the signal will have to pass through. If you live in a multistory home, place the router on the level where you’ll use it most frequently, or consider getting a Wi-Fi extender.   Not sure if you have a problem? If you suspect your Wi-Fi should be faster than it is, there’s an easy way to test it. First, make sure you have a relatively new Wi-Fi router and know how much speed it’s capable of. If your equipment is up to date, try connecting your computer directly to your cable or high-speed modem using the Ethernet cord. If it’s dramatically faster than your Wi-Fi, you may have an interference problem. If your Internet is still too slow when connected via cable, maybe what you really need is a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Enter your ZIP code below to see which ISPs offer service in your area and to compare their plans. The popcorn’s popped, blankets are out, and you’re about to start a movie. There’s just one problem — your Internet is lagging and Netflix is struggling to load. If your Time Warner Cable® Internet is slow, read on to find out what the issue could be — and how to fix it.   What Can Affect My Internet Speed? Downstream speeds are often pinpointed as the main cause of slow Internet, but there are actually multiple other issues that could be slowing down your connection.   Latency: Latency or ping — a measurement of how long it takes before network responses are returned — can affect how fast or slow your Internet connection feels. Like bandwidth, latency is affected by your network hardware and remote server connection. While there are ways to check ping time directly from a computer’s operating system, the fastest way to check ping rate is via an Internet speed test.   Router: While modern Wi-Fi standards offer high potential speeds, your router’s range may be affecting how much of that speed you actually see. Depending on the age of your router, your antenna may be weak, resulting in a limited connection range. If the Internet connection of your laptop or TV slows down the further away the device is from the router, this is likely the problem. Try connecting your lagging device directly to your modem via an Ethernet cable to confirm the problem — if your speeds return to normal when connected with a hard line, it may be time to upgrade your router.   Computer Health: Along with an outdated router, your computer’s health is another lesser-known factor that can affect your Internet speed. Check your computer’s processor cache, hard drive speed, RAM frequency, and display resolution to see if any of these specs are slowing down your PC. In addition to scanning your computer’s hardware-related health, regularly run an antivirus program to check for spyware or malware. Malicious programs can wreak havoc on a variety of system functions, including Internet connectivity.   Bandwidth Hogs: You may have too many people or too many programs simultaneously using your Internet. The more people or Internet-based processes running on a home’s Internet at once, the slower the connection will be. If your Internet starts slowing down, turn off any background uploads and downloads occurring on your computer, and close unused Internet programs to see if your connection speeds up.   How Can I Improve My Internet Connection? If you’re experiencing high latency, the number of household Internet users is growing, or you need to use multiple Internet-based programs simultaneously, you have a few options. The first step is to pinpoint your Internet needs and compare them with what you’re currently receiving. There are a variety of Internet tools that allow you to easily test the speed of your Internet connection and discover how fast your Internet connection should be to support your online activities. Next, choose one of three routes for improving your Internet connection.  
  1. Work around activities that cause slow Internet.
If you don’t want to pay more for a different service or switch providers, you may have to make a few sacrifices. Look into upgrading your hardware, running fewer Internet-based programs, or using the Internet during non-peak hours — i.e., during the day as opposed to evenings and weekends.  
  1. Upgrade your service with your current Internet provider.
Speak with Time Warner Cable to discuss available upgrades. Compare your current service’s megabits per second (Mbps) with other packages available. But remember, Internet downstream speed isn’t the only element that affects your overall speed. If you upgrade and still experience slow Internet speeds, your problem may lie in latency, hardware, or network traffic.  
  1. Switch Internet providers or service types.
Upgrading to a different Time Warner Cable Internet package may not solve all your speed issues. You may still see a lot of lagging during peak hours, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of other TWC subscribers. Look into other area providers, or consider switching to DSL or a fiber-optic network. Don’t rush the choice, though — compare multiple service options to determine which one offers a package that fits your speed needs and budget. No one should have to deal with slow Internet speeds. Diagnose your Internet pain points and evaluate faster package options from TWC and other Internet providers so you can get the speeds you need. For anyone thinking about moving, or just looking for a little source of pride for your current home, it’s worth noting how all 50 states compare to one another in terms of Internet speed. But which states are getting faster is perhaps an even more important measure of the Internet quality in your area. Everywhere in the country, Internet speeds are increasing. According to Akamai’s “[State of the Internet]” report for Q2 2014, the average peak connection speed in the U.S. is now 45.3 Megabits per second (Mbps), a 30 percent Year-over-Year (YoY) increase. That kind of improvement is great news for Internet users all over the country, but speeds are increasing much faster in some states than in others. Kansas’ Internet speed is growing faster than any other state. Likely due in part to Google’s funding of a gigabit fiber network in Topeka, Kansans currently reap the largest improvement in peak connection speed, a 90 percent YoY increase. Kentucky came in last in terms of improvement and was the only state to post a single-digit speed increase, only 3.6 percent. Geographically, the winners on this list are spread all over, with the North, South, Midwest, and East Coast all represented in the top 10. Just don’t go out West if you want to see your speeds improve each year.
But don’t get too cocky, Jayhawks. You may be the biggest movers, but you still lag well behind in terms of average peak speed. The first state to join the union is also the first in peak Internet speeds, and with the exception of Washington, the top 10 states for speed are all on the East Coast. If you love streaming movies, Arkansas might not be the place for you.
As you might expect, there appears to be some degree of inverse correlation between the two lists, with many of the states near the bottom of one list near the top in the other. In other words, states with a slower peak speeds had more room to improve than states with higher speeds, and an increase from 30 to 40 Mbps is easier than an increase from 40 to 50 Mbps. But there are outliers. Delaware was tops for speed, and fifth for YoY increase, and Maryland is also in the top 10 for each list. Unofficially, then, those states seem to be the two big winners in terms of their future Internet outlook. Kentucky, last in speed increase and 48th in peak speed, and Maine, 50th in speed and 48th for YoY increase, show the most need for improvement. It’s great that no matter where you live in the U.S., peak Internet speeds are increasing. But even for all the improvement, we still have a long way to go to keep up with other nations when it comes to peak connection speed. Residents of every state should envy those in Hong Kong, with their world-best 73.9 Mbps. [zipfinder]
Over the past decade, as Internet users watch more YouTube videos and video quality improves, people have started to demand more content in high definition (HD). However, watching HD videos requires a fast enough connection from an Internet service provider (ISP), and not all connections allow YouTube users to watch videos with the picture quality they want. If you’re one of the people hoping to watch YouTube in HD, it’s important for you to know what speeds are necessary to do this and how you find them.

The Importance of Internet Connection Speeds

On average, streaming YouTube videos in HD quality requires a minimum of a 5 to 6 Mbps Internet connection speed, but the faster, the better. An Internet connection slower than the minimum could mean a fuzzy picture, slow downloading, or frequent interruptions while the video buffers. When you select an Internet plan from your service provider, the advertised Mbps is the maximum speed the connection provides, but it doesn’t mean your connection is always that fast. For example, a 5 Mbps plan may be enough to stream YouTube in HD when your connection is at its peak, but a 10 or 15 Mbps plan (or higher) may work better for consistent HD access that still streams at or above 5 Mbps even when the connection speed slows down. From there, your home’s ability to receive and share the Internet connection among devices affects the speeds as well. This includes using a cable connection vs. using Wi-Fi; whether you exceed your data cap (if you have one); the types of hardware, software, and software configuration you use; and the number of connected users or devices. If any of these factors are unfavorable for a high-speed Internet connection, then despite your ISP’s ability to deliver HD quality speeds, you may not have access to YouTube in HD.  

Average Broadband Speeds in the U.S.

Ookla, the global leader in broadband testing and web-based network diagnostic applications, produces the Ookla Net Index, a data product that provides millions of verified speed test results from around the globe. The index shows the average download speed for each of the 50 states as well as for countries around the world. The higher the average Internet connection speed in your state, the easier it will be for you to stream HD YouTube videos;  knowing your state’s average connection speed means you’ll have an idea about how readily available this connection is. The fastest Internet speeds in the U.S. center around the Washington, D.C. to Northeast corridor, including Delaware at the top of the country’s Internet speeds (37.8 Mbps), followed by New Jersey (36.4 Mbps), and Maryland (35.3 Mbps). The rest of the highest Internet speeds are from states across the U.S. with no real trend. These states are most likely to support HD YouTube streaming. The slowest Internet speeds in the country come from Maine (13.9 Mbps), Montana (14.9 Mbps), and Alaska (16.9 Mbps). In general, the majority of the slowest Internet speeds come from the Midwest and farthest tips of the country. While HD streaming is possible in these states, because the average Internet speed is above the minimum HD streaming requirement, HD content may be fuzzy or intermittent if the Internet speed drops below this average. You can watch HD YouTube videos without slow download speeds, frustrating buffer interruptions, or a fuzzy picture. Sometimes the answer is simply adjusting your plan with your ISP or changing your Internet habits in your home. If you are having trouble watching the YouTube videos you love in HD, call your ISP to see how you can improve your Internet connection speeds. Find out how much speed you need with our Internet Speed Testing Tool.

Find Jess on Google+ Photo: Eric Fischer/Flickr speed-matters-saying-goodbye (1) Is your internet fast enough? [zipfinder]
Find John on Google+ speed-matters-when-killing-time (1) Is your internet fast enough? [zipfinder] Find Jess on Google+

You’ve probably heard ISPs promoting a bandwidth tier as “fast enough for online gaming.” There’s no doubt you need a faster connection for gaming than you do for basic browsing, email and social media, but how fast is fast enough?

Getting playable, let alone enjoyable, online gaming speeds isn’t all about download bandwidth. Upload speeds and especially latency play a big part, as does the kinds of games that you play; multiplayer games have specific demands that may not be satisfied by simply upgrading to a more costly tier.

The Ups and Downs of Bandwidth

Don’t get the idea that download speeds aren’t important. With more bandwidth comes faster loading, especially of graphical and map elements. If you’re playing Counter-Strike or Ultima Online, nearly any broadband connection is going to give you plenty of bandwidth to spare. But with modern games like Call of Duty: Ghosts or even World of Warcraft, a lot of background data has to be sent and updated throughout the course of a gaming session. And keep in mind that your ISP’s quote is for maximum (i.e., not guaranteed) bandwidth — a 5 Mbps connection may seem like plenty of bandwidth, but in practice you may be regularly getting half of that, or less. So with Xbox Live recommending at least 3 Mbps, you can be sure that a 3 Mbps connection will always be too slow, and your 5-6 Mbps connection may struggle just to reach the minimum.

Most Internet connections are asymmetrical, meaning that the download bandwidth is much greater than the upload bandwidth. On average, upload speed is about half of download speed, chiefly because consumer Internet technology was developed to serve a “passive” market — one that was far more interested in getting stuff off the Internet than getting things onto it. That was fine when text chat was the only communication option in multiplayer games, but modern multiplayer gaming usually requires constant and reliable real-time digital audio communication. So don’t neglect upload speeds when shopping for a gaming ISP.

Latency, Lag, Ping

Bandwidth is important, but it’s only half of the speed equation. Latency and lag refer to the time that it takes for your input to register. Latency is the central concern for anybody who plays fast-paced FPS games, whether it’s Counter-Strike or Battlefield 4. Lag is also of major importance for real-time strategy games like StarCraft II and MMORPGS like Warcraft and Knights of the Old Republic. The only genres not much affected by latency are turn-based strategy games and RPGs, but these only make up a small percentage of online multiplayer games.

You get some local lag from your gaming setup, including controller lag (from gamepads, keyboards and mice) and lag from Wi-Fi networks, long Ethernet connections, HDTV video processing, or possibly a PC in need of fine-tuning or upgrade. However, Internet-based latency is of much wider concern, partly because you have so little control over it; gamers can minimize local lag by fine-tuning their setup, but there’s only so much you can do to reduce the latency that shows up in that “first hop” between your home and the closest ISP node. For example, satellite connections are notoriously laggy — every button or key that you press has to make a 22,000 mile trip into space and back, and no amount of bandwidth is going to make it any faster.

Checking your latency on that “first hop” is easy — a networking utility called “ping” is built into nearly every network-connected device to check the response time between your machine and any given IP address. Although the words have technically distinct definitions, ping has become functionally synonymous with “lag” and “latency” (e.g., “what’s your ping?”). Windows and Linux users can simply open a command box to run a quick ping test, while Mac users and console gamers need to delve more deeply into their utilities menus to find the ping function.

What’s an acceptable latency? There are no hard and fast rules. The human nervous system is thought to be sensitive to response times as low as 10 – 20ms, with 50ms being the generally accepted threshold of responses seeming “instantaneous” to the online player. Most sources agree that latency of 80ms or lower is ideal, and that gameplay becomes tangibly frustrating somewhere between 150 – 200ms.

Xbox Live recommends a minimum of 3 Mbps bandwidth down (0.5 Mbps up), and a maximum lag of 150 ms. Microsoft admits that these numbers are a bottom-line minimum for a “certified” experience, and frankly anything above 150 ms will make you a multiplayer liability in a fast-paced game. Xbox Live, like many online services, dynamically adjusts server response times to compensate for different player latencies — which sounds nice, but what it actually means is that the entire team is forced to game at the speed of the player with the biggest lag. If everybody else is hopping with 50-80 ms and you jump on with 100-150ms, they’ll definitely notice the slowdown.

If you’re looking for a provider or Internet plan that will best serve your online multiplayer gaming needs, your best bet is to look at the minimum recommendations for the games that you want to play. Don’t worry too much about the download speeds, as you can always upgrade them, but as long as you can measure your connection in Megabits per second, your primary focus should be on latency. A bit of research and comparison with fellow players in your area will pay off in smooth frame rates, fluid communications, and uninterrupted fragging.

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