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How fast is Your Internet?

Dial-up modems are limited to a bitrate of about 60 kbit/s and require the dedicated use of a telephone line — whereas broadband technologies supply more than this rate and generally without disrupting telephone use.

Although various minimum bandwidths and maximum latencies have been used in definitions of broadband, ranging from 64 kbit/s up to 4.0 Mbit/s, a 2006 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report[1] defined broadband as having download data transfer rates equal to or faster than 256 kbit/s, while the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as of 2010, defines "Basic Broadband" as data transmission speeds of at least 4 megabits per second, downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) and 1 Mbit/s upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet). The trend is to raise the threshold of the broadband definition as the marketplace rolls out faster services. The standards group CCITT defined "broadband service" in 1988 as requiring transmission channels capable of supporting bit rates greater than the primary rate which ranged from about 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s.

Common consumer broadband technologies such as ADSL are "asymmetric"—supporting much lower maximum upload data rate than download. Data rates are defined in terms of maximum download because in practice, the advertised maximum bandwidth is not always reliably available to the customer. Consumers are also targeted by advertisements for peak transmission rates, while actual end-to-end rates observed in practice can be lower due to other factors. Physical link quality can vary, and ISPs usually allow a greater number of subscribers than their backbone connection or neighbourhood access network can handle, under the assumption that most users will not be using their full connection capacity very frequently. This aggregation strategy (known as a contended service) works more often than not, so users can typically burst to their full bandwidth most of the time; however, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems, often requiring extended durations of high bandwidth usage, violate these assumptions, and can cause major problems for ISPs. In some cases the contention ratio, or a download cap, is agreed in the contract, and businesses and other customers, who need a lower contention ratio or even an uncontended service, are typically charged more.

When traffic is particularly heavy, the ISP can deliberately throttle back users traffic, or just some kinds of traffic. This is known as traffic shaping. Careful use of traffic shaping by the network provider can ensure quality of service for time critical services even on extremely busy networks, but overuse can lead to concerns about network neutrality if certain types of traffic are severely or completely blocked. As consumers continue to adopt broadband services, available speeds are generally increasing. For existing connections, this most of the time simply involves reconfiguring the existing equipment at each end of the connection.

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