Are you paying a lot of money for high-speed Internet, but feel like you're not getting your money's worth?
"If you are paying for [high-speed Internet], but only receiving lower-level Internet speeds, there are several factors to look at to see if there's a potential for an issue," says Hallie Talley, president of Help System Services, an IT consulting and computer support company in Omaha, Nebraska.
Internet experts say you need to take these seven steps to make sure you're getting the speed you paid for:
Step #1 - Know What Speed You Are Paying For
You know exactly where to find the phone number for customer service if your Internet goes down. But do you know where to find the speed you're paying for listed on your Internet bill?
"The bill from your Internet service provider will specify two speeds for your Internet - a download speed and an upload speed," Talley says. "The download speed is how fast you receive information from the Internet to your computer. The upload speed is how fast you send information [from] your computer to another site."
Most Internet service providers start with a base for download speed of anywhere between 1Mbps (megabits per second) to 5Mbps and an upload speed of 768 kilobits to 3Mbps, says Talley.
"Your provider will have a tolerance level set for what is acceptable Internet speeds because you are paying for an 'up to service,'" she says."Up to" means the speed could be that high, but there are many factors that could make it less, she says.
"On average, 80 percent of the advertised speed is considered a good Internet connection," Talley says. However, "If you can eliminate all those other factors such as viruses and hardware, and over the course of a month you notice that you are below that average, I'd contact your provider and see if they can assist."
If they can't improve the quality of the connection, then it might be time to investigate other providers, she says.
Step #2 - Check Your Internet Speed for Free
Want to know how fast your Internet connection really is? Numerous sites will test that for you.
Talley recommends testing your speed at more than one site just to ensure that you are getting an accurate reading. For a second opinion, consider using the Federal Communications Commission's broadband connection test available via their website, http://www.broadband.gov.
If tests show that you're not receiving the Internet speed you're paying for, contact your provider to see what the issue might be, or consider switching to a new Internet provider.
Step #3 - Increase Your Internet Speed if It's Not Meeting Your Needs
Depending on how many people and devices use Internet in your home, upgrading your speed is the best solution to having a better communication and entertainment experience.
So, how much speed do you really need?
"A lot," says Chris Vaughan, an information technology expert who is also chief information officer at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.
"As a normal household with a couple of teenagers using gaming systems, laptops and tablets, along with someone checking emails and another watching Netflix, you need a plan that gives you speed of 20-30 megabits per second," he says.
If you don't have high-speed Internet, someone in your home is probably suffering because of it.
Step #4 - Check for Viruses and Replace Old Equipment
Just as our bodies slow down because of an illness, so does our technology equipment.
In fact, the slowness of your Internet may have nothing to do with your Internet service provider, but with the devices you are using.
"There are some things you can control [to] help keep the speed up to par," says Vaughan. "You need to make sure you have no viruses slowing your machine down. Most people have two devices that access the Internet. If both are slow, then your Internet provider is the problem. If it's just one device that is slow, then it is the device."
Talley says that using older modems and computers can also slow down the speed of the Internet.
"If you are still using an 8-year-old modem or a 5-year-old computer, you are going to be limited to what your equipment can process and use," she says. "You can look at upgrading your computer or even speak with your Internet service provider to see if they'll provide you with a new modem."
Both experts say that if your computer is not protected by some type of anti-virus, anti-malware, or anti-spyware software, the computer runs the risk of becoming infected and as a result, extremely slow.
Step #5 - Analyze What Time of Day Your Internet Speed Is Slow
The time of day you surf the Net can also affect how fast your Internet is.
Just like rush-hour traffic, Internet service providers can experience traffic congestion during peak times, Talley says.
"Typically, the busiest times are going to be from 5 p.m. to midnight for residential customers, and normal business hours for businesses," she says.
So if you're experiencing slower-than-normal speeds at home around 8 p.m., your connection is probably fine. But if you're noticing that your speed is dragging around 12 p.m., consider contacting your service provider to assess the problem.
Step #6 - Make Sure Your Home Isn't Too Far From Your Provider's Hardware
You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: Location, location, location…
The physical location of your house or business in relation to the physical location of the Internet provider's hardware can also be a factor in the speed you receive.
"For example, if I use an Internet service provider based in Des Moines, Iowa, my speed is going to be better if I live in that city rather than 30 miles outside the city limits," says Talley. "Also, if you live in a densely populated area, you are sharing the same cabling that runs from your neighborhood to the Internet provider's hardware. That means you are competing for bandwidth with everyone else who subscribes to the same provider as you."
With that in mind, you should evaluate how far you live from your provider's hardware and if there's enough cabling to go around for everyone. If not, it may be time to switch to a closer provider.
Step #7 - Call Your Internet Provider for Help, or Switch Providers
Customer service is big for any business, including Internet service providers, says Vaughan.
"Before giving up on your Internet provider, you should call its customer service and tech support people one more time and tell them your frustration," says Vaughn.
He recently had his own problems with the Internet speed at his home.
"I knew I wasn't getting the speed I had been promised," he says.
After exhausting many steps, his Internet provider finally sent a tech employee to his home.
"They verified that I wasn't getting what I was paying for. They told me I had been placed on the wrong tier," he says. "They were billing me for a higher tier of Internet speed than I was actually receiving."
All it took was a phone call to his service provider to fix the issue. So if you're having similar issues, don’t hesitate to give your Internet provider a ring.
Of course, "If you have exhausted all of the avenues, and still are not happy, it's time to switch," Vaughan says.