Sometimes, using the internet, you get caught in a traffic jam. The effect you'll see is very slow access, because you and a zillion other people are all trying to crowd through the same freeway. Or, if it's bad enough, maybe part of the road is closed off for repairs, and traffic can come to a standstill. When your browser finds that it can't access the address (called an URL) you're trying to get to, it tries and tries and tries and then gives up, and tells you it can't connect. That message might be anything, it might say "too busy, try later" or it might say "site not available", which sounds like it doesn't exist any more, but in fact it's just the traffic jam.
It isn't your computer, and it isn't your modem. If anyone tells you to get a faster modem to beat the traffic jam, they didn't understand the problem. That's like getting a faster car to beat freeway traffic jams.
One answer is to travel outside the rush hour. This means outside of 9am to 2am EST, which is, of course, the exact time that you do want access! In the small hours of the morning (3am till 7am EST) is the time of least traffic. Well, that's probably not a useful answer, then.
The other answer is to change the route you travel down. Between your modem, and my server, there's a route you travel for every single access. This route goes from your modem to your ISP, then your ISP might route the access via a few of their servers, then out to another server, and so on, hopping across the country or across the world, until eventually it arrives at my server. A dozen hops is common, twenty normal, thirty isn't impossible.
If one of the servers along the way is down for any reason, traffic gets re-routed. That alternative route won't be quite as good (otherwise it would be used in the first place). If something major goes down (think of a cloverleaf closed for repairs) then that re-routing can add a lot to journey times.
If you phone your ISP to complain about slow service, chances are they'll tell you that the problem isn't theirs, it's at the other end. What would you expect them to say, "Yes, we have too many people trying to use our system, perhaps you'd like to change to being someone else's customer?" Likewise, anyone you ask, they'll say the problem is elsewhere, not theirs.
Well, for a start, this isn't a constant. Someone who's good, might be less good next year, or vice versa. Also, "good" means good for what?
Can you call them locally? That makes your phone bill less. Can you call them locally from all over the world? That might or might not be important to you, depending on how much you travel, and on whether you want to get online when you're away. Do they offer ISDN? That isn't important unless you have ISDN, then it's vital.
So I can't tell you who is the best. Here's the Internet List.
And you can check out the Internet Weather Report
Fortunately, you can test for yourself using traceroute (tracert). If you run Windows 95 or NT, you can start up Dos and type "Tracert www.thevalkyrie.com" (that's one example, you can trace the route to anywhere). Then you get a display; here's what it all means.
Each line is a hop. A hop is a move from one server to another. I just did a tracert, and I went from my computer in the UK to my server in the US in 13 hops.
The first number is just counting the hops, from 1 up to whatever. The next three numbers are how long it takes to get from your computer, to that hop. It tries it three times, and gives you the result of each try. If it says * then that means it took too long, and it gave up. That's bad. The times are in milliseconds. 200 milliseconds is a good time, 100 is terrific, 500 is poor and 1000 is bad.
Then it gives the name of the server (like www.thevalkyrie.com) and the ip address (like 126.96.36.199). The name of the server gives you a good idea of who's running it.
Now, that information isn't from me, or from your ISP. It's information that is objectively true (at the exact time you ran it; if you do it a bit later, it might differ). But you can use that to decide for yourself where the problem is. In extreme cases, you might change your ISP.
If your ISP is looking good, but something between them and me is slow, then that might be a temporary problem (cloverleaf partially closed for repair) or it might be a longer term problem. You can tracert to a few other servers, and thereby see if that slow patch is on your way wherever you go. If it is a long term problem, and your ISP can't solve it, then you probably can by changing ISPs, because different ISPs use different routes. It isn't all automatic, you know. Each ISP is supposed to have people who keep an eye on this, and change routings if traffic on one is bad. Unfortunately, the number of Valkyries who understand this stuff is very limited, and some ISPs don't have enough capable people.
If you like, we can do it the other way round (WebTV users, for example, can't run things like tracert on their systems). We can do a traceroute from me to you. If you click here then my server will do a traceroute from me to you, and show you the results. The display is pretty much as I explained above, except it gives the information is a different order, and it gives the hop times to three decimal places, that's Unix for you, go figure. Hit Reload if you want to do the trace again.
The other useful thing you might want to do, is if you're considering changing to another ISP, is see how well they perform. You can do that from your computer; if you're considering changing to WonderISP and their domain name is WonderISP.com then you would do "tracert WonderISP.com". But then, you're still seeing the effects of your existing ISP on the results.
So the other thing I've set up, is that you can do a traceroute from my server to whoever you are thinking of using. Remember, of course, the results you see are the results at that moment in time.
The important numbers are the last three, that's three measurements of the time it takes to get from you to me. 200 is good, 100 is excellent, 500 is poor, 1000 is bad.
Type in the domain name that you want to trace the route for (for example, aol.com or mindspring.com), or leave it blank if you want to trace from my server to your system now.