ISP Problems--What's the Real Story Behind Bad Service?

I’m on my 4th ISP and all started well, then went to hell in a handbasket after a few months. Each ISP blamed me, my PC, or my telephone lines for my problems–slow connections, disconnections, etc.

My current ISP is MSN. Though I thought my usual 50,666 connection was fast, a recent speed test using McAfee shows my connection never exceeds 19 KPS. Someone told me the speed of 50.66 KPS is actually the speed of the software, not the actual connection. I called MSN, they blame a bad phone line and tell me to get it checked out. Verizon does not guarantee the quality of Internet connections, and I’m not sure it’s the phone lines anyway.

SO, HERE’S MY QUESTION: Why are connections sometimes fast and sometimes really slow–almost frozen? Do ISP’s have a standing policy of denying they are ever to blame? Could this be a server problem? And, last, would a cable modem solve all of these problems?


I have done tech support for dialup connections, and there are dozens of reasons why your service might be slow. Generally about 90% of calls we got where the customer was complaining of slow service were problems with the customer’s hardware or software, problems with the phone lines, or just typical internet latency. The rest of them were usually due to extremely high traffic in the area of the POP you were dialing in to that we were already aware of. I’m not saying that problems with your dialup connection are almost never the fault of your ISP - but that if the problem is on your ISPs side, it is almost always going to be a case of you not being able to get connected or getting disconnected for no reason, not getting connected and then it running slow. As soon as we verified the customer was able to authenticate, we always started asking questions about how far the modem was from the phone jack, checking the modem settings, etc.

If you have tried 4 different ISP, and get similar results with each, then maybe, just maybe, the tech support drones you’re talking to aren’t as clueless as you think. Some things to think about:

  1. Perhaps you do have a poor quality phone line. Try pluging the modem in to a different phone jack, sometimes the wiring to a particular extention is cruddy (technical term) and a different one will give you better results.

  2. Modems vary in thier ability to cope with less than optimum phone connections. What brand of modem are you using. If it’s the one that came with the computer, it is quite possibly a cheapo WinModem, made by a no-name manufacturer. Consider buying a new modem. As with all things you get what you pay for.

3)Hi, Opal! (I always wanted to do that)

  1. Do you only have problems with some web sites of with all of them. When you notice things slowing down, try to visit some of the “big name” sites (,, amazon, etc). They have lots of bandwith and multiple, redundant servers, so you can be pretty sure that the problem is not on thier end. If you are having problems with several different sites, then its not a “server problem.” It’s either on your end (most likely) or between your ISP and you.

A cable modem will speed up your connection to the net.

One analogy for the internet would be a highway system where your maximum speed was how fast you were going when you left your driveway. If you have a nice long driveway that lets you reach 70 before hitting the street (cable modem) you can potentially get to where you are going very fast, but if you run into heavy traffic on the way to where you are going you won’t get there much faster than somebody who left their driveway doing 15. If you can somehow hit the street going 120, you are rarely going to get to use your full potential. When I surf from work at night, I have over 100 times as much bandwidth as I have on my dialup connection at home, but I’m never able to download at speeds much better than 30 times what I can get at home.

If you are just surfing the net, not downloading large files, you won’t see THAT much of a difference between a decent dialup connection and a cable modem. But if you find yourself waiting on downloads a lot, or playing online games where a low ping time is important, it will be well worth the money.

The real story behind bad service ? It’s simple: we hate and despise customers and would rather be playing Quake.

Seriously, though: The list of things that can impede your service is LONG.

Modem, port & phone line issues remain the most likely cause for bad performance, as my esteemed co-posters have pointed out. If your ISP has skimped on upstream bandwidth or your local POP is overloaded, that doesn’t help either. All ISPs (have to) oversell their backbone capacity, but some do more so than other. Some servers may seem fast, some slow, due to the servers themselves or network congestion problems on the route to them.

Abrupt disconnects - again, most likely a phone line problem. I have heard stories of ISPs who used random disconnects when running out of dial-in ports, but the price per dial-in port is low enough these days that that shouldn’t be necessary.
One question I’d like to address:

Sometimes ISPs are to blame, but very often they’re not. An ISP will (usually) have several upstream connections to the Internet, but once data leaves the ISP’s internal network, there’s not that bloody much the ISP can do. Unpleasant things can and often do happen - frame loss on backbone lines, asymmetric routes, flapping routes, other ISPs announcing networks they don’t own, etc. etc. Sure, an ISP might find itself another upstream provider and hope for better service, but upstream is bought under long-term contracts, often reached thorugh a hideously expensive WAN link and thus not something you replace for the hell of it.

S. Norman - posting from home, waiting for the installation of his 1Mbit SDSL line - woohoo!

4 ISPs???

Could be that you have a crappy modem. My ISP has a number just for the type of modem I have, a USR & it connects to their USR modem.

OTher than that, you probably have crud on your phone jack. I change my jack & clean my phone box wiring about once a year.

What kind of modem is it? A modem master 8000?