Broadband testAs the Internet interposes itself into our lives, broadband Internet access has become increasingly necessary for work, recreation, and fellowship. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), thanks to money set aside in the Recovery Act, is creating a National Broadband Plan, and it would like your help in establishing the current baseline level of service.

The FCC has created a Web site, Broadband.gov, and beseeches you to visit the page and use the embedded test to determine the quality of the broadband you currently enjoy (or document your lack thereof). I did so (results above) and found that my Internet service provider was giving me what I subscribed for.

The results are broken down into four categories:

Download speed measures how much information your computer can receive from your ISP per second. Old dial-up modems would creep along at no better than 56 kilobytes, while today's cable, DSL and wireless services can handle over 100 times as much information. My service feeds me more than 8,000 kilobytes per second.

Unfortunately, according to WebSiteOptimization.com, citing Point Topic research, the U.S. ranks 25th in broadband penetration by household, at 28.9%. For a country that does so much of its business online, this leaves a lot of people sitting out in the cold. The most broadbanded countries? Liechtenstein, Monaco, Qatar, Malta and Bahrain. It must be easy to blanket tiny countries with broadband.

While we're less hooked up to the Internet, the U.S. is among the leaders in the quantity of traffic generated per month at 14.24 gigabytes. South Korea, however, is the Kobe Bryant of Internet users with 24.51 gigs per person per month, according to US Telecom data.

Upload speed
measures how much information you can stuff into your broadband connection to send away. Since most of us download much more content than we upload, services usually provide upload speed that is only a fraction of download speed. Yes, you upload constantly, but usually only tiny bits of information, such as a URL to connect to or an e-mail sent to a friend. You might experience the slower upload speeds when you add photos to your Flickr account or send a database to your office computer. If you've ever tried an online backup service, you'll have run into a problem with slow uploads; the initial backup to off-site servers can take days.

Latency measures the time lag in info flow to and from you caused by the networks you pass through. If you have trouble watching online video, latency could be the culprit. This is an issue with those using satellite services, since the distances are so large.

Jitter is a measure of how much your latency varies over time. Imagine your Internet connection speed as a car in front of you on the highway. A jittery driver slows down to 50 when she receives a phone call, then speeds up to 80 when passed by a sleek sports car, back down to 50 as she lights a cigarette, then back up to 80 to join a pack of fast cars passing her. Her average speed matches the speed limit, but each slowdown will drive you crazy.

Internet connections do the same thing, and the less of it you experience, the better.

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