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Why This Guide?

An extensive survey of residential broadband use was conducted by the City of Iowa City's Telecommunications Commission in the fall of 2013 covering a wide range of topics such as elements of consumer satisfaction, use patterns, network performance, and the level of consumer knowledge about broadband service. The survey showed than many consumers were not sufficiently knowledgeable about the aspects of Internet service that would make them well-informed consumers. This guide was developed to meet that need. The survey results are available here.

Important Terms

Bandwidth: the amount of information an Internet connection can deliver per second. Bandwidth is also called connection speed or just speed. Bandwidth is typically measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or sometimes gigabits per second (roughly 1000 x Mbps) or kilobits (roughly one tenth Mbps). Bandwidth is often used synonymously with download speed.

Upload speed: the amount of information your Internet connection can send upstream per second.

Gigabyte: a measurement of the amount of data sent or received. Internet service plans express their monthly data limits using the abbreviation GB.

Modem: a device located in the consumer premises that receives the signal from the Internet provider network. The modem is connected either directly to a users computer (or other device) or to a router, either wired or wireless to serve multiple connections.

Wireless router: a device that takes the signal from a modem and transmits it through a radio signal to Wi Fi enabled devices. Sometime it is referred to simply as a Wi Fi network.

Streaming Video: video received in real time, as opposed to downloading and saving for later viewing. High quality streaming video, such as movies from Netflix, is much more bandwidth and data intensive than small videos embedded in websites either as content or advertising.

What internet service plan is best for my household?photo

Internet service plans vary by the amount of bandwidth, or connection speed, the faster the connection, the higher the cost. Most plans limit the amount of data, or how much is downloaded or viewed per month. The average U.S connection speed is 15.6 Mbps. The average household will use is about 50 GB of data per month.

The amount of bandwidth your household needs to avoid periods of diminished performance can be estimated by determining your total bandwidth requirements during peak periods and adding a 25% buffer for times when the network is slower than usual. Of course, you might wish to choose a lower service level that will meet most of your needs most of the time. A bandwidth calculator is located below so you can estimate your bandwidth needs.

Few household will use more than 250 GB, a common size cap, but heavy users of streaming video or household with multiple heavy users can easily surpass a 150 GB limit. A data consumption calculator is linked to below to help you estimate your monthly data consumption.


Buying Guide


How can I calculate how much bandwidth my household will need?

Your household will experience a decline in performance when your household demand outpaces your plan’s provisioned bandwidth. Using the table below you can estimate your household’s peak bandwidth demand. Enter the number of users for each application in use at one time and total up your bandwidth needs. 25% will then be added in to accommodate for periods of diminished network performance due to network congestion.

photo
UseMbps x # users = Bandwidth

Streaming Video

Standard Resolution
1.5
x =
DVD Resolution
3
x =
HD Resolution
5
x =
SHD (blu-ray, Xbox)
7
x =

Video Conferencing (Skype, etc)

Regular
.5
x =
High Definition
1.5
x =
Multi-User:
- 3-4
2
x =
- 5-6
4
x =
- 7 or more
8
x =

Web Browsing

2
x =

Email

2
x =

Streaming Music

.5
x =

Online Gaming

Standard Definition
2
x =
2-Way High Definition
5
x =

File Sharing

3
x =

Total

0

Bandwidth Required (+ 25%)

 

How can I tell how much data I use?

How much data you will consume per month depends on how your household uses the Internet. The average household uses about 50 GB per month. Some applications such as streaming video, particularly in high definition, will consume more data than others. You can estimate the amount of data your household will use per month with the calculator at this site:
www.broadbandnow.org/resources/data-usage-calculator

When using this calculator it is very important in the downloading movies section to multiple the number of hours by three for high-definition movies. Likewise, for high definition online gaming, multiply by two.

Most providers will notify you as approach your limit. Mediacom’s overage charge is $10 per 50 gigabytes. CenturyLink is not currently assessing overage charges. Mobile plans will also notify you as you approach you limit and have an app that allows you to monitor data consumption. Mobile overage fees vary but typically are around $15 per gigabyte. i wireless will slow down your connection speed rather than assess a fee. SpeedConnect, a fixed wireless provider, has an unlimited plan. Their other plans charge a $2 per gigabyte overage fee. Satellite providers will slow down your connection speed if you exceed your plan’s data limit.

Mediacom subscribers can check their consumption here:
mediacomtoday.comphoto

What service options are available?

Internet service in Iowa City is provided by a number of providers in a variety of ways. Internet service can be provided by wireline (cable, fiber, and DSL), satellite, microwave, and through mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, ipads). Most consumers subscribe to a wireline provider for their household, as they typically provide a higher level of data consumption and offer faster speeds.

For those who live in areas that are not served by a wireline provider satellite and fixed wireless provide an option. Satellite speeds peak at 15 Mbps with data caps at 40 GB. Fixed wireless providers use a microwave system so your household must in line of sight of their tower. Maximum speed is 10 Mbps and some plans offer unlimited data.

Mobile service is offered in a wide variety of plans by a number of providers. Mobile networks utilize two standards, 3G and 4G. A 4G device can use the 3G network but not vice versa. 3G speeds rarely exceed 3 Mbps. 4G speeds can be as high as 20 Mbps, however, the average U.S. connection is 6.5 Mbps. Actual speed will vary greatly depending on location, the provider, network congestion, and if you are stationary or moving. Mobile devices can often be connected to a computer and serve as a “hotspot” or Wi Fi connection. Mobile plan's data limits are typically much lower than wireline providers, however, there are plans with unlimited data. A typical smartphone plan will provide 2 GB for about $50. Average U.S. household monthly data consumption is more than 50 GB per month.

Iowa City Internet Service Providers

Company Type Contact Comments
Mediacom Cable mediacomcable.com
546 Southgate Ave, Iowa City of Iowa City
800-479-2082
Plans as of May 2014 listed below
CenturyLink DSL centurylink.com
302 S. Linn, Iowa City of Iowa City
866-706-8592 -- 319-351-2242
Plans as of May 2014 listed below
SouthSlope Cable/Fiber southslope.com
980 N. Front St., North Liberty
319-626-2211
Available in North Liberty and parts of Coralville
HughesNet Satellite hughesnet.com
866-293-8945
 
Excede Satellite directexede.com
888-398-0840
 
DishNet Satellite getsatellite.com
855-692-8345
Reseller of HughesNet satellite service
Directv DSL

directv.com/city/iowa-city-ia
855-833-4388

Bundles service with CenturyLink
SpeedConnect Fixed wireless speedconnect.com
866-297-2900
Limited service area. Offers unlimited data plan
AT&T Mobile

att.com
Coral Ridge Mall 319-338-7808

4G
i wireless (T-Mobile) Mobile iwireless.com
Coral Ridge Mall 319-358-8289
1162 Sycamore, Iowa City 319-354-5777
4G Offers unlimited data plan
Sprint Mobile sprint.com
119 2nd St., Coralville 319-337-2735
2445 2nd St., Coralville 319-248-5296
1451 Coral Ridge Mall 319-338-1095
3G
U.S. Cellular Mobile uscellular.com
2010 Keokuk St, Iowa City 319-351-5888
1681 1st Ave., Iowa City 319-466-0300
Coral Ridge Mall, 319-625-2275
4G
Verizon Mobile www.verizonwireless.com
1815 2nd St., Coralville 319-351-1277
Coral Ridge Mall 319-351-0199
23 1st Ave., Iowa City 354-2008
4G

Iowa City Wireline Internet Service Plans as of March 2015

Prices are for stand-alone service, include modem rental, and do not include any promotional period pricing.

Mediacom
SpeedCostData Cap
3 Mbps $52.50150 GB
15 Mbps $72.50250 GB
50 Mbps $82.50350 GB
100 Mbps $102.50999 GB
150 Mbps $122.502000 GB
CenturyLink
(Limited service area for some tiers.)
SpeedCostData Cap
1.5 Mbps$49150 GB
3-7 Mbps$54250 GB
12 Mbps$59250 GB
20 Mbps$69250 GB
40 Mpbs$79250 GB

Troubleshooting Guide


How can I find out if I am receiving the amount of bandwidth provided for by my service plan?

The amount of bandwidth provided will vary from time to time and from web site to web site. There are a number of website that can measure your received bandwidth. One is www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/. When testing your connection you should have only one device in use and bypass any wireless routers or Wi Fi networks by connecting directly to the modem and then resetting the modem by unplugging the power, waiting thirty seconds, and plugging the power back in. Conduct multiple tests to various locations at different times of the day. Looking at the totality of all your tests should give you a good idea if your broadband connection is delivering the bandwidth your plan promises.

What can I do if I think I am not receiving the amount of bandwidth my service plan provides after conducting speed tests of my connection?

There are many factors that can affect your connection speed. While the cause of consistently slow speeds may be due to problems with your provider’s network, there are things you can do to determine if your equipment or wiring is the cause. Checking these first could help you avoid a trip from the cable technician.

Troubleshooting a cable modem connection.

You can determine if the cause of your problem is with the cable company by connecting your modem directly to the cable where it enters your house. This involves taking your modem (and an extension cord) and computer outside and running a speed test from that point. A less troublesome method is to ask your neighbors if they are also experiencing problems. Problems in apartment buildings may be building-specific.

image 1image 1

You can determine if there is a problem with your equipment by first disconnecting any router (wire or wireless) and connect your computer directly to the cable modem. If this solves the problem you have a bad router. Next, unplug the power supply to your modem, wait 10 seconds, and plug it back in. If speeds are still poor after the modem resets try rebooting your computer. If you are experiencing frequent drop-outs where you loose service and it quickly returns, you may have a bad modem. You can swap it out for a new one with your cable company.

image 2image 2

You can test your line quality by typing in 192.168.100.1 in the address bar of a browser. Looking at the diagnostic information your SNR should be above 32 dB, power between +/-8dBmv, and your upstream power less than 50 dBmv. Anything outside these parameters indicates a problem with your wiring.

image 3image 3

Many homes have several line splitters to accommodate internet service and multiple televisions. The line to your modem should come from the first splitter rather than further downstream. (Image 1)

image 4image 4

Any unused taps on any splitter should have a terminator or a cap screwed into it. (Image 2) Poor quality splitters can also cause problems. They should be labeled 5-1000Mhz (or 1Ghz). Make sure all cable connections are tight and secure. Check the connection outside your home for corrosion or wear. Current standards for cable is RG6 (Image 3). Older homes will probably be wired with RG59 (Image 4). The performance of RG59 will decline will be most pronounced with distances of 100 feet or more. Cable with push-on connectors often found provided with consumer video equipment such as DVD players should not be used.

Troubleshooting a DSL connection

First, the phone cord from the wall jack to the modem should be a direct line and have no splitters or surge protectors. Telephone service lines should be split from the line plugged into the “phone” jack in the modem. If you have any device connected to a phone line (telephone, fax, satellite TV receivers, e.g.) they must be attached to a filter.

imageImage 5

You can determine if there is a problem with your equipment by first disconnecting any router (cable or wireless) and connect your computer directly to the modem. If this solves the problem you have a bad router. Next, unplug the power supply to your modem, wait 10 seconds, and plug it back in. If speeds are still poor after the modem resets try rebooting your computer. If you are experiencing frequent drop-outs (where you loose service and it quickly returns), you may have a bad modem. You can swap it out for a new one with your provider.

You can determine if your problem is with your network provider rather than your equipment and wiring by connecting your modem directly the line before it reaches your house. First, locate the telephone network interface. It will be a box outside your house where the line enters and might be labeled as NID or DMARC. Open the customer access portion with a flat-head screwdriver and disconnect the line supplying your house.

Attach a phone line to that jack, connect it to your modem, and your modem to your computer. Supply with power and initiate a start up. If your speed is good, the problem is not with your provider's network. (Image 5)

What can I do to improve the performance of my Wi Fi or wireless router?

If your speed using your wireless router is less than when connected directly to your modem, there a few steps you can take to improve your signal strength.

image

1. The location of your router will affect the signal strength you receive. You can check your signal strength on a Windows computer by going to the Network Connections section of Control Panel and opening the Status window of the Wireless Network Connection. A signal strength meter will come up --1 bar is a very low signal, 5 excellent. On a Mac look for the Wi Fi icon in the upper right of your Finder menu bar. The more bands, the better. (If it is not there make sure the “show Wi Fi status” option is selected in the System Preferences Network options.) Wireless routers need a line-of-sight to your computer(s) and other devices such as printers and gaming consoles that make use your wireless router. While the signal can pass through materials used in most home construction, cement walls, metal, and water (such as an aquarium or even potted plants) present problems. The most convenient location, of course, is next to your modem, but the modem and wireless router need not be in the same place, only connected by an Ethernet cable. (Your modem connects to the cable entering the house, the wireless router connects to the modem). In choosing a location, it is generally best to be centrally located. Avoid basements. Attics generally work quite well. Make sure your modem is first in line when splitters are used for multiple televisions. (See above in troubleshooting.)

2. Wi Fi reception can be slowed by multiple users of the same frequency. The 2.4 GHz frequency is often crowded with your neighbor’s wireless router, baby monitors, microwaves, cordless phones, blue tooth devices, and even car alarms. Try switching the channel your wireless router is set on. You will need to run your wireless router’s software to do so. If your internet goes out while a cordless phone is in use, a channel change should solve the problem. Newer dual band wireless routers can also use frequencies in the 5GHz range, which should be less congested. If mobile phones or remote gaming consoles are going to access the router, make sure the 2.4 GHz band is also activated, as they typically cannot receive a 5 GHz signal. You can download free software at www.metageek.net/support/downloads that can analyze channel allocations in your wireless router’s proximity.

3. Older routers can sometime benefit from the addition of an external high gain (or booster) antenna. Prices range from $40-100.

4. You can use several routers linked together to extend your range. The additional routers must be physically connected through by an Ethernet cable at their LAN ports. For instructions check out this website. You will need to access to both of your wireless routers' software and manuals.

5. If you use a laptop the power saving settings can impact your Wi Fi reception. Try turning power saving settings off.

 
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