(405) 919-9901

by Dave Moore, 2-3-19

The number one computer-user complaint (keeping in mind that the word “computer” includes phones, tablets and TVs) is things seem to take too long to start. You click/tap, and then you wait; and wait; and wait.

There it goes again, the little spinning circle of dots or colors (sometimes called the Spinning Circle of Death) that brings the bad news: there will be no instant gratification today for whatever you were trying to do. Things on your computer will happen when they are good and ready.

People often react the wrong way to this situation and blame the computer, when it may not be the culprit. Many things have to work properly before a good Internet experience can happen, and the computer is just one of them. Older, underpowered and poorly-maintained computers can definitely slow things down, but often the cause of poor Internet service is exactly that: poor Internet service. Blaming the computer in these situations is like blaming a car’s battery for a burned-out headlight.

If your Internet service is flakey, look to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the solution. In central Oklahoma, that means companies like Cox, AT&T, Windstream, Pioneer, and the like. They alone are responsible for providing you with solid, reliable Internet service. We can’t fix crummy Internet service. Only they can.

Internet service around the world fluctuates wildly. To see the scope of the problem, take a look at The Outage Report website at https://outage.report, which shows a list of current Internet problems, and rates them as to their severity. As of this writing, Microsoft servers, Pinterest, Flickr and XBox Live game servers are showing “extreme” service outages. AT&T, Uber, Verizon, TDAmeritrade and Twitter are showing “medium” outage problems. US Bank, Google+, Fitbit and The Weather Channel show outage problems in the “high” category. Scroll through the list and you’ll see that Internet service around the world is far from perfect. In any other industry, such failures would be termed unacceptable, even catastrophic. For some reason, we put up with it.

There are tests that can help root out speed problems. You’ll want to see how fast the computer itself performs certain tasks. Restart the computer and, when it comes back up, assuming it does not take an inordinate amount of time, make sure no browsers are running, no files are synchronizing, no websites are open, no antivirus scans are processing, and no updates are installing. All these things can seriously slow down a computer, and skew your Internet speed tests. Any time I come across a “slow” computer, I check those things first, just to make sure they are not gumming up the works.

Once you are satisfied the computer is in a relatively “quiet” state, see how quickly certain tasks can happen. On a Windows PC, see how fast it will open Control Panel. If all of the icons appear quickly, taking no more than 5-10 seconds, that’s a good sign. Next, open the Programs and Features function. If the list of programs takes longer than 5-10 seconds to appear, the computer may need a tune-up before you can do a realistic Internet speed test.

If you’re using an Apple Mac, there are similar chores you can test. First, make sure the system is completely updated, and you’re using (as of today) at least OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) or higher. Click the Apple symbol in the upper-left corner. How long does it take for System Preferences to appear? Go to Users & Groups, select your User, and click the Login Items tab. This shows items that are set to start as soon as you turn on your Mac. Remove them all, and restart. Next, test some of your Dock programs. Do they open quickly, or take a long time? If anything seems sluggish or out of place, those problems should be resolved before you move on the the next level: the Internet speed test.

Before running an Internet speed test, you need to know what level of service you are paying for. What “plan” are you on? What should you expect? This information is usually printed on the second page of the bill that comes from your ISP. You do have a paper copy of your bill, right? You haven’t been conned into going “paperless,” have you? Your plan will be described as something like Internet Basic, Internet 300, Internet Essential, Internet Preferred, etc.

Then, you need to know how many “Mbps Down” (MegaBits Per Second) your plan provides. 5 Mbps? 30 Mbps? 1000 Mbps? The more the merrier when it comes to Mbps. Just think, “The more Mbps, the more speed.” Find out how many Mbps you are supposed to be getting.

And now, the big tests. Restart your modem and router. Then, go to www.fast.com and you will land on Netflix’s Internet speed test page. Make note of how many Mbps Down it says you are getting. Next, go to www.speedtest.net (not .com, .net). Don’t click anything except the round “Go” button in the middle of the screen. Again, make note of how many Mbps Down you have.

Run the tests a few times. If there are large differences (more than 5-10 Mbps, depending on your plan) between the test results and what you are supposed to have, call your Internet Service Provider. Tell them you are not getting what you are paying for. Tell them Dave sent you.

Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. As founder of the Internet Safety Group, he also teaches Internet safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.internetsafetygroup.com