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Is Your Internet Slow? Here's How to Tell

Suspicious of your slow speeds? Here's how to check your speeds and what to do if they're lower than you'd like.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
4 min read
Image of an HP Elite Folio 13.5 inch 2 in 1 laptop.

It doesn't take long to check how fast (or slow) your internet is. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

When you're watching a buffering ring more than the show you're trying to stream, it doesn't take a speed test to know something's up with your internet. Still, a good speed test will indicate how bad the problem is and how slow your speeds may be. Once you know what you're working with, you can begin to fix the problem.

The solution may be as simple as restarting your modem and router -- which should always be your first step -- or upgrading to a mesh network for a more permanent fix. Below, we'll show you how to check your internet connection's speed and offer advice when it comes time to troubleshoot. 

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Run a speed test on your computer, phone or tablet

There are plenty of apps and websites that will test the speed of your connection. Some more popular speed test services include Speedtest.netFast.com or CloudFlare.

Whether you install an app or use a website, it's a good idea to run the test a few times to get a sense of your connection's performance. Each test will take under a minute to complete, offering the download and upload speed results. 

FCC household broadband guidelines

The FCC gives some recommendations on how fast a connection you'll need based on your usage.

FCC/Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The Federal Communications Commission published a guideline for household broadband speeds based on the number of devices and people connected to the same network. Basic service ranges from 3 megabits per second to 8Mbps and will be good enough for light usage (browsing, email, video calls, streaming HD video, etc.). Medium service is classified as 12-25Mbps and is best for up to three users or devices simultaneously, with medium to high usage depending on the activity. Finally, advanced service is any connection speed over 25Mbps and is best suited for those with more than four users or devices using the connection at the same time for more than light usage. 

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Your internet connection's speed will vary based on the time of day, the number of devices connected and in use, and other factors. I suggest running multiple speed tests for a day or two, tracking the results, to gauge your connection's true speed. 

(For our tech-savvy readers, you can use a Raspberry Pi to run speed tests on a set schedule and upload the results to Google Drive for you to monitor by following this handy guide.)

Ideally, you'd connect your computer directly to your ISP's modem with an ethernet cable to run a speed test, but that's not always possible. But there's another option for running a speed test: use your wireless router's app. 

Speedtest Results

A speed test is a quick and easy way to determine if something's wrong. 

Ookla/Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Do a speed test on your wireless router

Depending on your wireless router, it might be possible to run a speed test through its dedicated app. For example, Google's Nest Wi-Fi can run a speed test in the app or ask Google Assistant how fast your internet connection is. 

Eero, Linksys

and Asus ZenWifi routers also include the same capability, although not all support asking a smart speaker to run the test. It's best to start by looking at a dedicated app. 

Using your wireless router's speed test may prove to be more accurate -- in theory, at least -- because the router is connected directly to your modem. 

You don't have to rush out and buy a new router if the speed test results are lower than you expect or are paying for. However, that may be the case, depending on how old it is. Router technology, like any other technology, often changes, and that can lead to performance issues. If your router was purchased in the last couple of years, odds are it's fine, and the issue is due to something else. 

Hand holding up the back of a router, showing the ethernet ports.

There's potentially more than one reason your internet may be slow. 

Ry Crist/CNET

What to do if your speed is slower than it should be

I recommend turning off your modem and wireless router, leaving them off for about 60 seconds, and then turning them back on. Most of the time, this fixes any speed issues for me. CNET's Ry Crist has further tips on how to get better, faster Wi-Fi to help you get your network back to working as it should. 

The answer isn't as easy as calling your internet service provider and informing them of the subpar service. It's a frustrating fact, but ISPs are allowed to throttle your connection speed. However, there are steps you can take to determine if that's the case or if there's another issue at fault. 

You can also check your provider's app or website for an outage. The first thing I do when my Comcast Xfinity connection is acting flaky is open the Xfinity My Account app and look for any service issues. The app will give you an estimated restoration time when there is one. Knowing that the issue isn't anything on your end means you can forgo any troubleshooting.

Finally, you can call your provider to ensure your modem supports your plan's speed or to see if there are plans or promotions that will be worth an upgrade, so you can get the speeds you need to have a stress-free day of work and play.