WWW FAQs: Why is my modem so slow?

2004-03-27: The maximum speed of a "56K" modem is about 56,000 bits per second. That's 7,000 bytes per second (8 bits to a byte). 7,000 bytes is about four pages of text, so plain text web pages should load just fine. A small photograph, correctly optimized for use on the web, is closer to 70,000 bytes; that will take about 10 seconds to load under ideal conditions. A large photograph can take more than a minute; downloading .MP3 music files of songs, which are several million bytes in size, can take close to ten minutes; downloading a TV show, movie or full-scale computer game can easily take hours.

"... And why don't I actually connect at 56K?"

Connections at or close to 56K happen only when your Internet Service Provider has equipment in the same telephone company central office that your phone line connects to. Even then, your phone lines must be excellent, and they often aren't. 56K connections are rare. Anything from about 31K on up is considered a reasonably good modem connection.

"What about modem accelerator software?"

ISPs like America Online and NetZero automatically convert images found on the web to a much lower-quality format that takes up less space. This isn't ideal, but it does make web pages load a lot faster. They also "cache" copies of the content people frequently want on servers that are closer to you, so that you get that content as fast as your modem can accept it.

Other "modem accelerator" software that does not involve special cooperation on the part of your ISP is less effective. Such software relies on tweaking your system registry or opening several download connections at once; these tricks might just manage to use a larger percentage of your connection efficiently, if they are used well, but 56k modems are slow, no matter what you do.

For a truly fast connection to the Internet, you should consider DSL or cable modem service. For more information, check out BroadbandReports.com, which provides reasonably independent reviews and information regarding fast Internet connections. BroadbandReports can help you find out what connection types are available in your area.

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