Because the Internet is made up of so many interdependent pieces, traffic jams can heap up suddenly, at any time, and for countless reasons.
As a result, it's hard to know whom to call.
A slowdown in service can be the fault of improperly installed software, a faulty modem, the phone company, the Internet service provider, the Web server of the destination site, the Internet service provider of that site, or any of the Internet backbones in between.
Thus, troubleshooting one's connection to the Net may involve phoning the software maker, the modem manufacturer, the technical support staff of the computer maker, the Internet service provider, or the phone company Â– an apathy-inspiring number of calls for anyone to make.
One source of slowdown can be the speed at which an Internet viewer receives information, also called the throughput. Like a highway, the throughput of an Internet connection can be affected by traffic.
During news of national interest, such as the Super Bowl or the landing of the Mars Explorer, many Internet viewers log on at once, and the sudden spike in information demand creates a slowdown all by itself.
Similarly, Internet traffic has peaks and valleys depending on the time of day. According to Jennifer Bestor, vice president of research for Inverse Network Technologies of Sunnyvale, California, the best time to log on is when everyone else is asleep.
"Internet usage generally is at its lowest between 3 and 4 AM EST, but when the market closes on Monday, stay off the Internet," Bestor said.
Written by Sean Wolfe. Graphic Design by Dana Byerly