Why You're Probably Paying For Faster Internet Speeds Than You Use
In the age of high-speed internet, encountering a spinning wheel when you try to stream a video can be maddening. But before you call your provider, know that you're probably already paying for faster speeds than you use.
Illustration: Timothy Wong
#WSJ #InternetSpeeds #Buffering
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Over 3 million have already cast their ballots in early voting to decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. With mail-in voting as an option, why are some taking the risk to vote in-person as COVID-19 cases continue to rise? "The country needs more support and the significant remaining pain is not -- I repeat -- not evenly distributed. Far from it."
Sen. Mitch McConnell explains why he is opposed to a bill that would send $2000 checks to Americans. CNN's Ryan Young reports from Georgia where one lifelong Republican voter says he cast his ballot for a Democratic candidate for the first time. The messaging app Parler has sued Amazon for cutting its web-hosting service, effectively shutting it down. The social media platform has come under fire for posts by far-right users that encourage violence, including conversations linked to last week's storming of the US Congress. Also in today's show - CES 2021 kicks off an all-digital event, and the price of bitcoin plunges amid warnings from regulators.
- [Narrator] We've all been here. You wanna stream a show, but when you go to load it, it does this. In the age of high speed internet the circle can be maddening. But before you call your provider know that you're probably already paying for faster internet speeds than you actually use. We'll explain. This is your computer, it connects to your router. Your router is one of many routers which make up your provider's network. Your provider's network is one of more than 70,000 such networks that make up the internet. When you try to load a video or type really anything into your browser, your router sends the request on a journey across the internet. Often, it's the journey back where things can get a little complicated and crowded. Imagine a network of highways with delivery trucks running across it. Each of these are packets, the basic unit of internet traffic. Some are Amazon, some are Netflix and some might be a photo you're e-mailing to your aunt. And they're all taking different routes based on agreements the networks have with each other. Your video might be passed from one network to another until it gets back to you. Or the content provider might pay a transit provider to carry the request back. Either way, it's sharing the road with a lot of other content. So there are plenty of places were things can get jammed up. Anytime one network hands off content to another there's potential for a traffic jam, which can slow down your video and cause a spinning wheel. The important thing to understand is that you can't fix a bottleneck out here by paying your provider for higher speeds within your own network. Your network is only responsible for this leg of the journey. Paying for faster internet just because you encountered a spinning wheel is kind of like getting a bigger driveway in hopes you'll get to work faster. So, what does all of this look like in real life? In real life, these networks are made of millions of miles of fiber and cable running around the world and connecting with each other in big data centers full of servers. Here's an actual request for the homepage of a local broadcaster in New Zealand, provided to us by researchers at The University of Chicago. It starts in Vienna, Virginia, outside of Washington D.C. with a Verizon Fios user and travels across the country on Verizon's network. In California, it connects to a different network which sends it to Austin, Texas and then back to California. It then gets handed to a transit provider which sends it across the Pacific Ocean to Auckland, New Zealand. It likely takes a similar path back. See all the opportunities for traffic jams? Other trips have few or even no hand offs. Powerful tech companies like Google, Netflix and Amazon and content delivery networks have rolled out thousands of servers spanning the globe to get copies of popular content closer to you. Smaller sites can rent space from some of these companies to speed up their journey. Here's a request for netflix.com that starts in Los Angeles, California. It goes to a server in Calipatria, California. That's it. So why do you sometimes get a spinning wheel when you request content from Netflix or other big tech companies? Well, sometimes their servers can crash and cause an outage, or maybe they took a longer route that got congested. But the problem could be closer to home. Are you trying to stream video during peak evening hours? In many networks you're sharing bandwidth with your neighbors. Or maybe it's your WiFi. Maybe you're leasing an out of date modem or router from your provider that isn't capable of receiving the speeds you're paying for. It might be worth an upgrade. You may also have an interference problem from another device, like your neighbor's baby monitor or maybe you're just too far away from your router. Or it just could be your own device. Are you using an old laptop or phone, or an outdated streaming box? Your device could be slowing you down. It could help to restart your modem or router or even invest in a better one. Same for your devices. But a lot is still out of your control. Like if your neighbor's son is downloading 15 video games one night. Or a traffic jam out in the internet. So next time this happens and you call your provider, they'll likely try to sell you more speed for your connection, but now you know better.