Guide to Improving Your Internet Speed in Pine Plains
by Matt Finley


Contents

Purpose of this Guide

What’s in your house?

Where should the modem and router be?

What’s better, Ethernet wires or WiFi from my router?

What are the signs my Internet is too slow?

What’s the first thing you should try if your Internet is slow?

How can I measure how fast my Internet service really is?

What if I am not getting the speed I am paying for?

Advanced topics:

      Power outages

      Router frequencies

      Router speeds

      WiFi Names

      Ethernet cable ratings

      Someone stealing your Internet

Glossary of terms

To report problems

About the author

Disclaimer



 PURPOSE OF THIS GUIDE:

The Pine Plains Broadband Committee, after surveying the Town of Pine Plains in September and October of 2020 to document the need for better Internet access, felt that a guide of this kind could be useful. This information is intended as a general helpful reference. It is not intended to substitute for the services of a paid professional computer technician or a service representative from your Internet Service Provider. It covers Internet service topics only and does not cover general computer use.


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 WHAT’S IN YOUR HOUSE?

Let’s describe some of the things that you may need to know.

To receive the Internet on a computer or portable device (cell phone, tablet, smart speaker etc.) you must have Internet service from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This can take many forms, including cable from Altice, Consolidated, G-Tel, Verizon or Spectrum, or you might have Internet from satellite, or from a hotspot based on your cell phone service. If you are fortunate, your service could be fiber optic cable.

The first thing you need to know is who your ISP is, and what speed are you paying for? If you don’t know, call and ask. There will be much more on speeds later in this document.

Then you need to know what equipment they have provided, or if it is an option, what equipment you have purchased.

You will have a Modem. This is the first device connected to whatever cable comes into your house. It is provided by the ISP, but some ISPs will let you purchase your own to reduce your monthly fee.

You may also have a Router connected to the Modem. The connection between the Modem and Router is by Ethernet cable, which looks like a fat telephone wire with jacks at each end that look like telephone jacks except fatter. It is usually only a few feet long.

The Router is a radio transmitter for Wi-Fi in your house. It is also a splitter, meaning that you can connect multiple devices by Ethernet cables, such as a computer, a printer, or a hub that controls smart devices like a doorbell or camera. In some households and many businesses, the Modem and Router may be one device that serves both functions.

Pro Tip: You can usually buy your own Router and sometimes your own Modem to save monthly rental fees. Once installed, you return theirs to the ISP retail store. 


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 WHERE SHOULD THE MODEM AND ROUTER BE?

You are probably stuck with the Modem where the ISP’s installer put it, because it is connected by the cable that the ISP supplied and may have even secured to the floor. But if you purchase a longer Ethernet cable than the vendor gave you, you can place the Router in better places. 

  1. Higher is better. Go to the second floor.
  2. The center of the building is usually better for best coverage.
  3. Placement away from metal is very important.
  4. The fewer walls the signal has to pass through, the better.

If your problem is that you get great coverage in one part of the house but not another, and relocating the router is not possible or does not help, consider a mesh-based system. You can purchase mesh routers that have several transmitters. These can be placed in multiple locations where you need good service.

Pro Tip: Avoid purchasing an extender for your Router. They are notoriously difficult to set up, if they work at all. A mesh system is now the better choice.


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 WHAT’S BETTER, ETHERNET WIRES OR WiFi FROM MY ROUTER?

The speeds from wired Internet will always be faster than WiFi and those faster speeds will be more consistent. Your desktop computer should be wired. Your laptop can be wired as well. WiFi has the advantage of greater convenience.

Pro Tip: Using Ethernet for as many devices as possible also reduces the traffic on the Router for WiFi, so the remaining devices that must be on WiFi will work better.


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 WHAT ARE THE SIGNS MY INTERNET IS TOO SLOW?

You may see buffering, shown by a spinning beach ball (Mac computers), an hourglass (Windows computers), a counter that doesn’t count up to 100 (Netflix), or many other stalled ‘timing’ signs that vary depending on what you are trying to do. Your program may even crash or lock up. You will probably know by the frustration of waiting that things are just not working correctly.


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 WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU SHOULD TRY IF YOUR INTERNET IS SLOW?

Reboot the Router and reboot the Modem. Do this by disconnecting the power from each for at least 30 seconds. Plug each back in and they will automatically start in about a minute.

Pro Tip: I keep my Modem and Router on a power strip. That way, I do not have to unplug anything to reboot the devices; just flip the switch off, wait 30 seconds, and flip it on. I do this to reset my Router and Modem once every few weeks and reestablish my Internet connection whether it needs it or not.


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 HOW CAN I MEASURE HOW FAST MY INTERNET SERVICE REALLY IS?

On your browser, go to www.speedtest.net and click on the Go button. It’s that simple. You will receive three numbers:

  1. Ping speed

  2. Download speed

  3. Upload speed

If the Ping speed is anything less than 30, that’s fine. It’s just a measure of how fast the service responds.

The Download speed is the most important. If the Download speed is at least 25 Mbps (mega/million bits per second) then you have what the federal government considers to be Broadband Internet speed. This is the minimum speed the government thinks a typical house needs for all the uses you may have for your Internet, such as conducting business from home, attending school on Zoom, downloading Netflix, and running smart appliances like a Google Home, Portal, or camera on your front door.

Most ISPs offer a starting speed well above 25, such as 100 or more likely now, 200. You can decide to purchase an upgrade. Altice currently offers plans of 200 and 400 Mbps in Pine Plains. Business customers of Altice can have 450 or even up to 1,000.

Upload speed is generally far lower than download speed, and that is fine because most people are not generating much content; they are receiving it. On fiber optic-based Internet, however, you may see upload speeds that are equal to or nearly as fast as your download speeds.

In addition to ping, upload and download, some speed test services offer to measure Jitter. This is simply a measure of the average speed of your service and is generally not a problem.

Pro Tip: when you run speedtest.net, yours should be the only device doing anything on the Internet.


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 WHAT IF I AM NOT GETTING THE SPEED I’M PAYING FOR?

Call your ISP, tell them the speedtest.net results, and respectfully request they come to inspect your service.

Pro Tip: to be sure your test speed is accurate:

  1. test with a computer, not a phone or tablet
  2. don’t use WiFi; use a computer with an Ethernet connection
  3. make sure no one else is using the Internet in your home or business
  4. test several times, at different times of day and night
  5. for the fastest possible speed, connect your computer directly to the Modem by Ethernet cable, temporarily bypassing the Router

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 ADVANCED TOPICS:

      Power outages.

Don’t assume if your electrical power is out that your Internet service is also out. It may continue working! Plug your Modem and Router into an Uninterruptible Power Supply (you can buy these at Staples or Best Buy).

Pro Tip: also plug in a cell phone charger. That way you can use WiFi on your cell phone during emergencies to check the weather or even notify the power company of an outage.

      Router frequencies.

Routers made in the past several years offer two speeds: 2.4 MHz and 5 MHz. The signals for the older standard, 2.4, travel farther, but there is more interference in that radio band, and certain devices like a microwave oven or drones can scramble transmission. The 5 MHz band is shorter range but faster, so I use that on my tablet. My phone still uses 2.4 because it will connect as soon as I drive into the driveway.

Pro Tip: It is possible to use your Router administrator software to choose different channels within these two bands if your neighbors are using the one you are on.

      Router speeds.

Routers have evolved quickly, and speeds are still evolving. There are standards for WiFi speed that use letters, like N, AC, or the current fastest speed, AX. The AX standard is starting to be called WiFi 6, and this naming convention will probably catch on. My current router is a Netgear Nighthawk, which is a WiFi 6 device.

      WiFi Names.

Router configuration software allows you to name the WiFi signal, called an SSID, which you should consider doing instead of letting it default to 'Netgear' or something similar that the vendor named it. You can name each band a differnt name, such as 'Smith Family' and 'Smith Plumbing'. You can name each band the same, with the same password, and smarter devices like your cell phone will choose whichever has the better signal. You can even use a name such as 'FBI Remote'. Finally, you can choose to hide the name altogether, so only you (and whomever you tell) know that there is even a WiFi signal there.

      Ethernet cable ratings.

Here’s one that fooled me at first. Ethernet cable is rated by speed, and years ago when my Internet service was installed, my cables were more than fast enough. When I upgraded last year from 100 Mbps to 400, I discovered that in addition to a new Modem and new Router, I also needed new Ethernet cables. My old ones strung through the house were rated 5. Those cables limited the speed to 100, so I was not seeing any improvement despite the new equipment. Better than a cable rated 5 is one that is 5.5, but now you should buy 6. If you are a business or wiring a new house, buy 6.5. Don’t forget what I overlooked at first: the cable provided by Altice for the short connection between the Modem and Router was rated 5!

      Someone stealing your Internet

Don’t laugh, it happens. Is there a running car often parked in front of your house? Are you the person who never gave your Internet Router a name, so it is still named Admin with a password of Admin? There is software you can use to monitor all the devices connected to your Router. Newer Routers offer this software for free that you can download. With it, you can turn off your Internet at a certain hour, block the name of your WiFi from appearing, set parental controls, and make other security-related settings.


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 GLOSSARY OF TERMS:

      Broadband definition:

According to the Federal Communications Commission, a home is serviced by broadband Internet if the download speed to the home measure at least 25 Mbps, and the upload speed measures at least 3 Mbps. Anyone with Internet service can run a test such as www.speedtest.net to determine conditions at their own home or business. This standard of 25/3 is subjective, and the Pine Plains Broadband Committee has a real question whether such a speed is adequate for a business, or for a household with several adults working remotely and several students actively doing schoolwork in pandemic conditions. According to present federal standards, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) self- report where they provide service. If as little as one home in a census block is provided with broadband-quality service, all homes in that census block are considered to be served. Using this standard, www.broadbandnow.com shows coverage of Pine Plains is 88% as of October 2020. The effectiveness of this standard has been roundly challenged.

      DSL (digital subscriber line) is available throughout all of Pine Plains via the existing copper twisted pair telephone lines. While DSL can provide Internet service, its typical download speed of around 6 to 12 Mbps does not meet the minimum standard to be considered broadband. The maximum speed also depends on the quality of the existing wire and the location from the central switching building.

      Satellite Internet, available locally through Hughes.net, also does not quite meet the minimum speed standard, and may suffer serious signal degradation in bad weather. Tests of much higher speed satellite Internet service are now being conducted by Starlink, and this might offer a promising alternative for those who cannot otherwise obtain broadband service in the short term.

      Cell phone hot spots. This service, provided by cell phone carriers, is rapidly improving and is capable of meeting minimum broadband standards, but is relatively expensive and depends on reliable cell phone coverage that is not available in all locations.

      Cable Internet is supplied by coaxial cable that brings us cable television and sometimes telephone service. Cable Internet offers several speed options ranging from 100 Mbps to over 1000. Reliability in cases of power outages and inclement weather has been identified as a problem, and the rated speeds are maximum speeds that degrade according to how many users are online. In Pine Plains, Optimum/Altice is the only provider for most of the town. A competitor in New York State, Spectrum, operates near Pine Plains but has indicated it has no plans to expand into Pine Plains. 

      Fiber Optic cable is a technology that strings bundles of tiny glass tubes and transmits data by beams of light. It has tremendous advantages over other technologies listed here, notably almost unlimited potential speed of data transmission. Speeds of 1000 Mbps are commonly offered. Repeaters are used to boost the signal periodically, so it has no practical range limit. It is highly resistant to tampering for security. At present, it costs approximately $30,000/mile to string fiber to homes. 

In Pine Plains, there is a fiber optic trunk cable running along a few streets and running even in the center of town along Main Street, but it has not been deployed to any homes or businesses. Altice is converting coaxial cable to fiber optic but is starting in the higher-populated areas of Westchester County, and it may be years before it reaches here.

      5G cell service is rapidly expanding in larger metro areas and may reach Pine Plains in a few years. Note that to supply 5G service, the phone companies must have fiber optic cable on the poles and the 5G transmitters, each at least $30,000, must be located every other pole or so.

      Other technologies may be developed that will completely upend our understanding of the technology for communication needed in Pine Plains. This has happened many times before, ranging from the telegraph and telephone to DSL, which has been largely replaced in the center of town by coaxial cable Internet. Soon, fiber optic cable could make cable Internet obsolete. At any time, radio-based wireless technologies could replace any wired solution. 


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 TO REPORT PROBLEMS:

Please let me know if you have any questions, problems, or suggestions about the information presented in this guide. Contact the office of the Pine Plains Town Supervisor and ask them to relay the information to me.



 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matt Finley is a professional jazz musician and composer who was professor of computer information systems and dean of academic affairs for 20 years at Dutchess Community College. He served on Gov. Mario Cuomo’s commission on Communications in the Year 2000. He wrote several of the first Internet websites in Dutchess County, including sites for DCC and the Pine Plains Free Library. In the late 1970’s, he managed the first retail computer store between New York City and Montreal, in Albany. He served as vice president of the board of the Lake George Association. In Pine Plains, he has served as chair of the town Democratic Committee, president of the board of the Pine Plains Free Library, member of the Pine Plains Broadband Committee, member of the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, and chair of the Pine Plains Board of Assessment Review. Mr. Finley co-wrote the final report of the Pine Plains Broadband Committee in March 2021. 



 DISCLAIMER:

The material in this guide may not be reproduced without permission of the author. All rights reserved. Last revised: April 6, 2021


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