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Internet Speed

I use cable for Internet access and nothing else.  Under Time Warner I paid $65 per month for the 'Extreme Plan' that yielded up to 35mbps (megabits per second) download speed and 6mbps upload speed.  I was paying a special promotional price for the because I asked for one.  At the end of a year I would have to pay $75 or downgrade to Turbo, at 15mbps download and 1mbps upload speed.  When Spectrum took over from Time Warner the old plans were still imposed on old customers.  But by the time I went to ask for a new promotional price a year later, things had changed.  I was told Spectrum offered up to 100mbps download speed and 10mbps upload.  It would cost $60 per month, and that was the regular price, not a promotional price.  Well that is now close to $65, but still $10 less than what I would have had to pay to keep the so-called 'Extreme' plan.


Now that 'up to' means you will not necessarily get the whole 100 all the time.  For example, when I conducted a speed test a couple of minutes ago I only got 76.9mbps download speed.  My upload speed was 11.7, really good considering I had only one for several years when I had Time Warner's Standard Plan (3mbps download/1mbps upload -- and Netflix worked fine, thank you very much).  But how much speed do you really need?

According to you probably don't need as much as you think.  The amount you need depends on how many people in your house use the Internet, how many devices you have hooked up and what, exactly you use it for.  Most households probably don't really need much more than 20mbps download speed and 1mbps upload speed.  You may need more if you stream video all the time, and especially if two or more people in your house simultaneously stream video on different devices.  You almost certainly don't need more than 40mbps (download) unless you have fifteen teenagers constantly hogging your bandwidth.

I recently learned that part of the deal that allowed Spectrum (Charter Communications) to operate in New York State was that it was required to upgrade to 100mbps by the end of this year, and a year later to 300mbps.  Those speeds feel great, but for most people they are excessive for today's technology uses.  However, with high density (HD) video streaming and who knows what innovations are to come in the next few years, higher speeds will have to become the norm, not just a cool thing to have.

By the way, a megabit translates to 1,000,000 bits.  You have certainly heard that as far as your computer (or phone or tablet) is concerned everything is either a zero or a one.  That is what is stored in a bit -- either a zero or a one.  It takes a lot of zeros and ones to display the latest Star Wars movie, so you need to be able to download quite a few of them very quickly if you don't want Luke Skywalker frozen in place (presumably Darth Vader transcends download speed so he can use Luke's incapacity to his advantage...).  So transferring a million bits in a second doesn't seem like that much when you consider the number of images it takes to fool our eyes into thinking that Luke really knows how to wield that light saber.

You only actually need 5mbps or more for regular Web browsing or steaming music.  Double that for casual gaming or video streaming - yup, 10mbps is probably enough to keep Luke safe.

Make it 20mbps if you are a rabid gamer or stream HD video a lot.  And if four people want to do all that at the same time, raise it to 40mbps or more.

So there is no need to panic when your 100mbps connection is only delivering 76.9mbps.

Web developers are among the few who really need fast upload speeds, because they often use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to upload all the files it takes to make a Web site to Web servers physically located somewhere else in the world.  For example, the Lansing Star Online newsroom is located in -- you guessed it -- Lansing New York, but the Star is served to you from Web servers in Ashburn, VA.  So a higher upload speed is handy when we have a lot of pictures or a video to upload.

Keeping all this in perspective, that 76.9 speed test score doesn't bother me because Netflix and Hulu are still working just as well as they did the other day when my system tested at 117mbps (exceeding the 'up to' cap by more than the total of Time Warner's Turbo plan, which was not even their lowest speed plan).

Assuming Spectrum (if they are still in New York) ups our Internet accounts to 300mbps next year, we'll be rich in megabit transfer capability.  And at some point down the road, interactive hologram calls to your loved one in Botswana will need that kind of speed to work.  But for now, just bask in the bragging rights if your plan promises 'up to' 100mbps.

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