How fast is YOUR internet?
Internet speeds on Block Island are subject to change. That's the unfortunate truth, especially if you're using Verizon's DSL service, which mostly all of us are.
The further you are from the DSL hub, which on Block Island is basically in the middle of town, by the new Town Hall, the more degraded your web surfing speeds will be (for instance, people way out on Corn Neck Road close to the North Light can not even get DSL service). And the more people that are using the DSL service, the slower it will get. Meaning, the more people online, the less bandwidth is available for your own personal enjoyment. This is especially true in the Summer on Block Island, when we see internet speeds start crawling.
How do you know your true speeds? There are tests you can run to see if you're getting what is promised in your contract. Now, understand, what you are promised has a caveat. There is a stipulation that you may not get what you are paying for. And this is true of pretty much all internet service providers. There is no way of guaranteeing an absolute speed due to many factors (length of line from the hub, age of line, number of people using the service...etc.). Here are the steps to see if you're getting the speeds you are paying for, or at least if they are close:
The best way to do this is to be connected by a wire directly from your computer to your router. If not, and you are wireless, be sure you have no other computers accessing the wireless service you are using.
First, restart your computer. This will clear any residual RAM (items that are slowing your computer down, like programs running in the background). Do not open anything except a single web browser window, be that in Safari, Chrome, Opera, Explorer, Firefox...etc.
One of the best tests for speed is www.speedtest.net. But be sure you have the Macromedia Flash plugin installed on your computer (this will not work on an iPad or iPhone unless you have the speedtest app) before you do it. If you don't, you will be prompted to install it.
If you're on Block Island it will automatically pull up a local server in Massachusetts to run from. If not, it will, from your IP address find a more suitable server.
There are three tests that will be run. The first is a ping test. In a nutshell, a ping is the amount of time it takes for a signal sent to your computer to be received back by the sender. My service has been optimized through repeated work by Verizon. As an example, my ping result is now between 84 - 88 ms (milliseconds). The lower the number, the better.
The second test is download speed. That's how fast you can pull stuff from the internet. And this is where stuff starts to get dicey. Download speed will vary based on the load on the hub. So the more people that are online (re: Summer), the less download speed you will get. It will also vary based on how physically far you are from the hub. Again, my speed has been optimized by Verizon and I'm not far from the hub. My download speed, through work by Verizon, and remember that this is a Winter/Spring speed, is between 2.83 - 2.85 Mbps (Megabit per second). I fully expect that to decrease once the Summer load hits. But for now, I'm enjoying the speed. It's enough to stream Hulu and Netflix movies without a stutter. As a reference, people on the mainland using Cox or Time Warner internet cable service average 20 Mbps. So you can see how slow our speeds are here.
The third test is upload speed. Upload speed is how fast you can push stuff (say, email or files) from your computer to the internet. Through my optimized Verizon account I'm uploading at between .67 - .7 Mbps. This is pretty much standard. Service providers don't want you to be running web servers though their service without paying for it, so they cap these upload speeds very low. And rightly so. If you want higher upload you need to pay for it. So don't be nonplussed by low upload speeds. And from my accounting, most of the upload speeds on Block Island are much lower than I'm getting. I work for the island newspaper and I do it from home, so I have large files that need to be uploaded to the paper and print servers. Working with Verizon, I was able to tweak my speeds to a spot I was comfortable with. And it is fine for what I need to get done.
Please do the speed test and report back your findings. If we all do this we can work with Verizon to ensure a more optimized and better working internet experience for all of us. But remember, there are conditions that go along with the service we are provided. At this point in time do not expect to get the same type of speeds that you get on the mainland with cable and other providers. It's just not going to happen. Expect things to slow down when Summer hits. It's an unfortunate truth that the more people we have here, the slower our service is going to get. But do keep an accurate record of the speeds you are getting and measure that against what you are promised in your contract. Verizon has begun to do an accounting of contracts on the island and I already know of a few people who have gotten a sizable amount of money back because they were paying for speeds they were not getting.
There are other internet options on Block Island in addition to Verizon DSL service, which is all I've discussed here. If you have Satellite TV, you can get internet service through your satellite provider. Additionally, any of the cell phone providers offer 3G or 4G cards for your computer that are a USB or PCI plugin that work off of the cell towers much like your cell phone receives internet service.
Block Island is a special case when it comes to internet service for the time being. Hopefully, and somewhere in the foreseeable future, we start enjoying the abundance of bandwidth that our mainland counterparts are enjoying.
Please post your speedtest.net results in the comments section along with your physical location and let's start a discussion about improving internet speed for everyone on Block Island.