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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 11 Issue 4
April 2017
Is Your Computer Acting Strangely? Don't Panic! Your Network or Internet Connection Might Be Down

The problem

How can you tell if your internet connection isn't working? What should you do about it?

It's likely that you rely on your internet connection for a wide range of things. Whether it's email, web sites, shopping, news, social media, online music and entertainment services, software subscriptions from companies like Microsoft and Adobe (where simply opening a document on your computer may trigger a number of connections to the internet including checking for updates and subscription status), or earning a living as an employee, freelancer, or consultant, when your internet connection or local network isn't working, you're more likely to experience frustration and inconvenience in more areas than ever before.

Please note that this article focuses on connections that are not working, not ones that are slower than you would like.

No internet connection: Some visible symptoms

Here are some of the more visible signs that your internet connection isn't working:
  • You can't load web sites. You get an error when you open your web browser. Since it's possible that your connection is fine but your home page is offline, be sure to try at least one or two other popular web sites.
  • You get odd errors when you try to send or receive email, or your incoming email activity is "quieter" than usual. The newest message in your Inbox is from hours or days ago, or messages get "stuck" in your Outbox.
  • You can't get software updates, or get odd error messages about access to online services or accounts.
  • If you have other computers or devices that share the same internet connection, are they all offline as well? Do not include devices that use the cellular network, which is a completely separate internet connection than the one your computer is using.
These are not definitive indicators, and could certainly have many other causes, but they tend to indicate a connection problem.

No internet connection: Some subtle symptoms

Here are some of the less-obvious signs you're offline:
  • Your computer's date and time are off.
  • Some of the icons around the edges of your screen may have little red x's or "slashes" through them.
  • Your computer appears to be running more slowly than before.
  • Things just "don't seem right."
Is it a problem with your internet service or your local network?

Since your computer is probably connected (via a wire or wireless) to your local network, which in turn is connected to your internet service, it can be tricky to figure out where the problem may be.

For example, if you have a wireless printer to which you can still print, that would indicate that your local network is working. However, if your computer thinks your wireless printer is "offline," if the printer works, that may mean that there's an issue with your local network.

Simple things to try

Troubleshooting network and internet connection problems can be complicated. Here are a few simple things you can try for starters:
  • Don't panic! Problems are normal. There is almost always a logical explanation.
  • Did the power go off? Confirm that your network equipment (especially your router and modem) has power. Don't laugh! If you're using a laptop or smartphone or tablet during daylight hours, you might not notice a power failure. Did a power strip getting accidentally turned off? Is your equipment plugged into an outlet that's controlled by a light switch? Did a fuse blow?
  • Look at the lights on your router and modem. Are they showing normal activity? Have any cables come loose?
  • Confirm that your computer is currently connected to your router. For a wired network, is your network cable securely plugged in? For wireless, is it on your wireless network and not a neighbor's? Could it be too far from your wireless router?
  • Try restarting your computer.
  • Take a break. Check again in a few minutes.
More complicated things to try

Here are some things you can try that are more advanced:
  • Try powering your router and modem off and on again. Do not pull out all the wires (or try wires randomly), only unplug and replug the power cable. If you're not sure which cable is which, don't touch anything.
  • If you know how to access your router, check to see if it has an internet connection.
  • It might be a software problem. For example, if you have firewall software, it might be blocking too much.
  • Did something unusual occur around the time the problem started?
  • Call someone you know and trust to help and advise you.
  • Call your ISP (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and find out whether there is a service outage in your area. If so, you may just have to wait, since they often have no idea how long it will take to fix. If not, ask them for help, but be careful if the conversation goes beyond discussing the modem and getting back online because they probably don't know anything about your situation, your needs, or your own equipment.
Things that are probably a complete waste of your time

While tempting, I don't recommend:
  • Clicking the "Troubleshooter" or "Network Diagnostics." They almost never solve anything.
  • Don't retype your email password, especially if you're on Comcast, where email glitches often clear up on their own in a few minutes.
Short-term workarounds

While you're waiting for the problem to resolve or help to arrive:
  • If the cellular network is working and your smartphone or tablet can get online that way, use them to get your email or web sites until your computer can get back online.
  • Newer smartphones can create an internet "hotspot" that your computer can use temporarily. This is a separate wireless network that uses the phone's cellular data network as the underlying internet connection. This will probably run down your phone's battery, so plug in its power cable. Since this will use megabytes (or gigabytes) on your "cellular data" plan, limit your internet use to the essentials to try to avoid overage charges, i.e., this is not the time to use Skype, download music, or watch movies.
Where to go from here

There are a number of things you can do now that will save time later when you have a problem:
  • Get to know your router and modem. Do you have two separate devices, or a single, combination modem/router? Write down (or take photos of) which lights are on (or blinking) when things are working normally.
  • At a minimum, label the power cables on your router and modem so you can find them easily. Consider going further and labeling all of your router's and modem's cables, as well as the ports they plug into.
  • Practice activating your smartphone's hotspot and connecting your computer to its Wifi network.
  • Arrange to call someone you know and trust to help you. Have their phone number handy, along with your internet provider's support number. Write those numbers on your modem.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2017 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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