As I see it, the ping reply from a gateway, (which is all a tracert gives - it just pings each step in turn a few times to cater for short fluctuations, then pings the next one), can vary either because of congestion in the backhaul from the exchange (almost certainly not between the user and the exchange), or because the gateway itself is treating pings as very low priority when it is under load. As do many home and network routers.
As a rule of thumb, if a step gives a slow response, but the ones following it are lower, that isn't a problem in real usage. It just means this is happening but the packets for later are getting through quickly.
If however that slow response is followed by the later steps being a bit higher but not a lot, that suggests a data bottleneck at that slow-responding router. If another jump occurs in a later one, the same applies.
With Step 2, the first we see after our router, we have no way of knowing.
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