Last updated on November 9th, 2020 at 09:42 pm
Internet problems are serious issues if you rely on that connection for work or school.
Internet problems are incredibly frustrating
We rely on the Internet more now than ever before. With the coronavirus pandemic creating a surge in the remote workforce and forcing kids to attend school virtually, we’ve found ourselves spending more and more time connected. In addition, our Internet connections have become much more than a convenience, they’ve become a necessity almost as important as electricity itself. Internet problems are serious issues for those who rely on that connection to earn their income.
While I’m not overly active on social media, when I’m there I see a lot of my friends complaining about having trouble connecting to work or school – the frustration is real. So let’s talk about some things you can do to diagnose the issue when you’re having Internet connection problems and maybe even fix it yourself.
If you’re a technical person, much of this is going to sound boring to you. The following information is intended for non-technical people who simply don’t know what to do when things don’t work.
The Things You Can’t Control
The Internet relies on lots of different pieces that aren’t even within your control. Everything on the other side of your internet router (the box your Internet Service Provider gives you) is completely off-limits. But there are ways to determine quickly if your internet problems are most likely on their end or not.
Are All of Your Devices Offline or Just 1 of Them?
This is something that even technical people easily forget to check, especially when you’re in the middle of working on something important and panic sets in.
When your ISP has problems, it typically affects all your devices. So if your laptop suddenly can’t connect to the Internet but your TV is still streaming Netflix, it’s probably not your ISP. But when all of your devices can’t connect, the only thing you can do is reboot your router – and if that doesn’t work, call your provider to report the outage.
Determine if Your ISP is Experiencing an Outage
If you suspect the Internet issue is with your ISP, a simple test is to turn off the WiFi connection on your smartphone and see if you can access the Internet from your cellular connection – you should be able to. Once you can get to the Internet on your phone, you can search for outages for your provider on downdetector.com and that should tell you, pretty much in real-time, if others with your provider are also having issues. You can also submit a report of your issue there as well.
You can also call your ISP and ask them if there’s an outage in your area, though I’ve found many ISPs are hesitant to admit issues at the first tier of a support call. I’ve found downdetecter.com to be accurate and quicker than any other method.
Once you’ve confirmed that it’s your ISP who has the outage, there’s nothing more you can do other than sit and wait for service to be restored. While this can be frustrating, you’re not alone and at least you’ll know that you don’t have any problems with your home network.
You’re only Having Issues with a Few Websites
Perhaps the web portal you use for work or school suddenly stops responding, but you can still get to YouTube or Google. If that’s the case, you may be dealing with an outage at those particular websites.
With the large increase of telework & virtual schooling, many places simply didn’t have the infrastructure or bandwidth to support the increased traffic coming into their systems. Online services that got a heavy increase in users such as Zoom and Google Meet were inundated, and sometimes still have issues.
You can determine if the issue on those sites is global simply by turning off the WiFi on your phone and seeing if you can access them from your cellular network. If the issue is with the site, you shouldn’t be able to get to it (or it should be slow and unreliable) no matter where you connect from.
For larger services such as Zoom and Google Meet, downdetector.com is still your best friend and will provide accurate information as to whether or not the issue is on your end or not. For smaller sites that may not be tracked by downdetector.com, you can try another great online tool called Down For Everyone or Just Me. This site allows you to put in a web address and it will check from various locations to see if the site is up or not.
The Things You Can Control
Depending on the quality of your equipment, failures may be rare. I’m an IT guy who relies on the Internet to earn my income. As a result, I invest in the highest quality service available in my area & buy the best network equipment I can find. When there’s an issue, it’s almost always at my ISP.
That being said, I’m not immune from equipment failures – no one is. The good news is that most modern routers, switches, and WiFi hubs available for the home today are very reliable and have a long service life. Whatever issue you’re facing is likely temporary and you can fix it yourself.
Determine The Scope
Like we previously talked about, are all of your devices offline or just a few or 1? Maybe the outage is only affecting your devices on WiFi, or maybe it’s just the wired devices. This information will help you narrow down where the interruption in communication is.
All Your Devices are Offline: Reboot Your Router
If every single device in your home cannot connect to the Internet, and you’ve confirmed there’s no outage with your ISP, you should reboot your router.
Some routers have a switch you can turn off and on, but the best way to reboot a router is to simply unplug the power cable. You should leave the power cable unplugged for a good 60 seconds before plugging it back in. If, for some reason, the router is not powered on when you check it, you might need to check to see if the power cable worked its way loose or a circuit breaker in the house tripped.
In many cases, this is enough to fix your issue. If not, you can test your router’s connectivity to the Internet by plugging a laptop or your computer directly into one of the network ports on the router.
Most routers provided by ISPs have 4 network jacks for wired connections that you can use. If you plug a computer directly into one of those and still can’t access the Internet on it, the router may be bad and should be replaced by your ISP.
All Your WiFi Devices are Offline
This is one type of outage many homeowners don’t (or can’t) check – but it’s pretty common for just the WiFi connections to be down. Troubleshooting this issue might be a little more involved depending on your setup. For most homeowners, WiFi is handled by their router so following the same steps for rebooting your router may solve the issue.
In rare cases, I’ve seen router resets pushed by the ISP that set the WiFi password back to the default – so you might want to forget the WiFi network on one of your devices and then try to reconnect to see if the password is correct.
You can also check for interference. While it’s rare these days, sometimes other electronics in the house can muddle up the WiFi signal in your home. Microwaves are notorious for this. So if your router is near other electronic devices, try moving it to a different location.
All Your Wired Devices are Offline
You’ll probably never see this actually happen unless you have a complicated home network with extra network switches, but it’s worth a mention. Usually, this is the result of a bad network cable coming off your router or switch. Sometimes even an individual port on the router might go bad.
Only One or a Few of Your Devices are Offline
When this happens, it’s almost always on your end. Even if you call your ISP and they tell you to reboot your router, it’ll not likely fix your issue. Troubleshooting steps differ for each device.
Smartphone or Tablet
Put the device into airplane mode for a few seconds and then out of airplane mode. This will force a new connection over your WiFi network and sometimes is enough to fix a hung communication session.
If that fails, reboot the device. For a smartphone, you can also turn off WiFi completely and see if you have Internet access through your cellular connection. If that’s also down, then your phone might have a more serious issue. Always try a reboot before you take it in to the repair shop.
Desktop or Laptop Computer
If the system is on WiFi, try turning off the WiFi and then back on again. If it’s wired, unplug the network cable and then plug it back in. Both of these steps work the same way using airplane mode on a smartphone or tablet does by forcing the device to attempt a new connection to your network.
If that fails, reboot your computer. I have an antivirus program that occasionally disables the network connection on my desktop computer and the only way to clear it is with a reboot.
For a computer that’s wired to the Internet, also check the wire to make sure it’s not damaged.
Smart Device Such as a TV or Home Assistant (Echo, Google Home, etc…)
These devices can sometimes get hung up for no apparently reason. Usually a good power cycle fixes it but if that doesn’t work you’ll have to consult the manufacturer’s instructions on resetting the device.
Other Things to Consider
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the things that could cause you to have Internet problems, it should cover most of what you see in the home.
It might be easier to call in a professional, but those guys aren’t cheap. I once had a friend of a friend call me because his Internet was completely out and he’d called one of those big tech support companies who quoted him $600 for an emergency home visit. He thought that was a lot, so he called me and I stopped by on my way home for work to find out that he’d accidentally flipped the switch on his router to the ‘off’ position. Making sure you’ve checked everything is really worth the effort.
If you have continuous intermittent internet connection problems, there are plenty of possible culprits. Maybe your ISP isn’t very reliable or maybe you have too many devices online for the speed of the internet that you have. If you have lots of problems with WiFi, you should consider purchasing a dedicated WiFi system rather than using the one that’s built-in to your router.
Dedicated WiFi systems offer better coverage and more options than what typically comes with the average ISP router. You can find a variety of systems to fit just about any budget, and when you’re relying on your WiFi in order to make your income it’s worth the investment.
Having internet service without problems is almost as critical as having electricity these days. If you’re experiencing regular internet problems and you identified that it’s not your equipment, it might be time to move on to another provider (assuming one is available in your area).