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Why Can’t My ISP Guarantee My Internet Speeds?


The speed of data transfer via the internet has dramatically increased since the internet’s inception back in the 1980’s. Growing up in the 1990’s when the internet first started becoming widely available to the public, I myself can clearly remember the days of 28.8k and 56k modems through dial-up connections via the phone line. To compare the speeds back then to the speeds today, here are some numbers: 56 kbps (kilobits per second) was the theoretical maximum download speed of dial up modems back then; while 5000 kbps (5 Mbps or megabits/second) is the theoretical maximum of the widely available ADSL2+. That’s nearly a hundred times as fast!

You may have an ADSL2+ connection yourself, and you might be thinking “Hang on, I’ve run Speedtest.net on my connection and I get nowhere near that speed!”. Maybe you’ve then gone to your ISP (internet service provider) and asked for an explanation as to why you’re not getting speeds as fast as you should be according to the theoretical maximum potential of ADSL2+. They probably would have reassured you saying that it is actually quite rare to achieve the theoretical maximum, and they would have been speaking the truth. You may then ask your ISP what speed they guarantee you will get. Now I can’t speak as to exactly what your ISP would have said in response, but they would have said something similar to this: “We can’t guarantee a specific speed for your ADSL2+ connection”.

Before you blow your cool and start going on about providing a service that you’re paying for and so on and so forth, there is actually a justification for this kind of statement from ISPs. There are many variables which can affect the speed of data transfer between your home and the telephone exchange, the hub that provides telephone and internet connectivity to nearby homes and businesses. The most notorious one is distance; your ISP may mention that the distance from your home to the exchange can have a significant impact on your internet speeds. There are also many other factors at play however, such as the location and connection quality of the actual server you are trying to download from, the quality of network cabling in your house, and the technical limitations of your modem/router. Because these factors are all beyond your ISP’s control, it is actually impossible for them to guarantee any specific download speed with any degree of confidence.

So before you abandon your current ISP and look for another, remember that there are many factors behind the actual download speeds you experience, and this a good reason that your ISP cannot guarantee you a specific speed. Just be glad that you are living in an age where internet speeds are faster than ever before, and that you don’t have to struggle with dial-up anymore!

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