Kadansky Logo

Personalized Computer Services

(617) 484-6657


How I Work





Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 14 Issue 11
November 2020
If Your Internet Connection Stopped Working, What Would You Do?

The problem

Like many people, you probably use the internet a lot and in a variety of ways. Whether it’s on a computer, mobile device, smart television or “smart” appliances around your house, and whether you’re using email, visiting web sites, downloading or uploading files, shopping, paying your bills, working, running a business, attending school online, socializing, staying in touch with family, following the news, streaming music and movies, etc., you probably rely on your internet connection for any number of things each day.

So, if your internet connection stops working, that can be a major disruption which will prevent you from getting things done, especially if you earn your living online or you want to stay socially distant during the pandemic. While in some cases you can switch to alternate methods (like going to a grocery store, or calling people on the phone), there are many things that you can do online that have no (or no acceptable) alternatives offline.

Where to start

In order to keep this simple, I will assume that your power is still on. Having both your power and your internet service fail at the same time is much more complicated.

If you’re having problems with your internet connection, start with some basic troubleshooting:
  • First confirm that your internet service has really gone out. The simplest approach is to try loading a few different websites, especially ones that you haven’t visited recently.
  • If all of those fail to load, find your internet equipment (your internet modem and router, or combo modem/router), make sure that they have power, then try turning them off and on again. Rather than pushing any on/off buttons, I recommend simply pulling the power cord(s) out, plugging them back in again, and then waiting a few minutes for them to start back up. Do not unplug any other wires.
  • You could also try Restarting your computer.
  • If none of those things help, call your ISP’s tech support phone number to report the problem and try to solve it. You probably won’t be able to use your ISP’s landline, nor your VOIP phone (Vonage, Ooma, etc.), nor online chat. Your cell phone is usually a good choice, assuming that you can get a signal, or use someone else’s phone if possible. This is a productive option if the problem is specific to you (your equipment, a problem in your neighborhood, etc.), but if it’s a regional outage you will probably just have to wait until your ISP has solved it.
Other options and workarounds

While you’re waiting for your regular internet service to come back online, here are some other temporary workarounds that you might find useful:
  • Use your cell phone (iPhone, Android) or cell-enabled tablet (iPad, Android) instead of your Windows or Macintosh computer to get things done online.
  • Switch your computer and other Wifi-capable devices to another alternate internet connection. See “Mobile Hotspot” below for more information on one particular approach.
  • If you’re a Comcast customer (and you can remember your Comcast username and password), you might be able to connect your computer and mobile devices to their “xfinitywifi” wireless network if it’s available in your area.
  • Take your mobile devices (laptop, cell, tablet, etc.) to another location with working internet service, e.g., a friend’s house, a coffee shop, a school, a public library, etc.
  • Use someone else’s computer, for example, a friend’s or colleague’s, or a computer at a local public library.
Mobile Hotspot: The alternate internet connection that you probably already have

Consider this:
  • If your regular internet connection isn’t working, and
  • If your cell phone is an iPhone or Android (i.e., a smartphone), and
  • If you experience an internet service outage that can’t be corrected right away, and
  • Your cell service is still working,
Then you can probably use your phone to create a “Personal Hotspot” or “Mobile Hotspot” that you can use temporarily until your ISP is back online. This is a special smartphone feature that:
  • Turns your phone into a wireless router, i.e., it creates a new wireless network to which your computers (and other wireless devices) can connect (temporarily, instead of your regular wireless router), and
  • Since your phone can still access the internet through the cell data network, your computers and other wireless devices will also be able to use the internet through your phone.
While this can be a very convenient, temporary alternative to your ISP, there are a number of things that you should know about this approach:
  • You’ll need to switch each wireless device that you want to use during your ISP outage (computers, smartphones, tablets, wireless printer, network backup drive, etc.) to use this temporary new network. Later, when your ISP is back online, you’ll switch them all back to your regular wireless network, and then turn off your phone’s mobile hotspot.
  • If you have a wireless printer, you won’t be able to print anything until you also move your printer to your hotspot’s wireless network.
  • Your internet speed will be a lot slower than your regular ISP internet service. In my own recent tests I measured mobile hotspot speeds as low as 1.5% of my regular ISP speed, but that’s still better than having no internet access at all. Because of this, your Zoom or Skype or other online meetings may not work as well, so be prepared to turn off your video and just using audio in those meetings.
  • It won’t have as large a range as your regular wireless router, so devices that are physically farther away from your cell phone may not operate well online, or at all.
  • Doing this will make your cell phone consume more power than usual, so be sure to keep your phone’s power cord plugged in to avoid running down your battery.
  • This will also consume more megabytes (or even gigabytes) of “cell data” than usual, so if you go over your regular allotment of data in your cell plan, you will pay overage charges until the end of the current billing cycle. As a result, you should avoid consuming unnecessarily large amounts of data, e.g., skip watching Netflix or Hulu or online TV shows, downloading large files, and (if possible) complicated web sites like Facebook. Instead, stick to the online activities that you’ll really need until your ISP service is restored, like email and critically important web sites.
  • Remember that if you leave your home or office and take your cell phone with you, your computer and other devices will immediately lose their internet connection, unless you bring them with you. They will also go offline if your phone loses its connection to the cell network, you turn off its hotspot option, your phone gets powered off, or it stops working.
Since this technique only creates a wireless network, devices that require a wired internet connection (i.e., Ethernet or CAT5 cables) will not be able to get online, so:
  • For desktop computers with no built-in Wifi card, consider buying an internal wireless card or USB wireless adapter.
  • Your USB devices (mouse, keyboard, printer, backup drive) and Bluetooth devices won’t be affected since they don’t use the internet.
How to practice this technique:
  • Turn on your cell phone’s Hotspot option, and adjust the name and password of the new wireless network as necessary. On iPhone look in Settings for Personal Hotspot; on Android look in Settings for Mobile Hotspot, Wi-Fi Hotspot, or Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot.
  • On your computer, choose this new, temporary wireless network. Confirm that you can get your email, load websites, and anything else that’s important to you.
  • If you need to print to your wireless printer, be sure to move it to the new wireless network as well.
  • For a very thorough test, after first warning anyone else using your internet connection, you could also unplug (or power off) your ISP’s modem or gateway.
  • When your test is finished, be sure to reverse these steps to put everything back onto your regular network.
The ultimate solution: Sign up with a second ISP

Consider this:
  • If internet outages are an issue with your ISP (but for various reasons you don’t want to stop using their service), or having reliable internet service is very important (or even critical) to you, perhaps because you’re running a business or a medical practice, and
  • If another ISP is available in your neighborhood, and
  • You can afford the extra ongoing expense,
Then you could also arrange for internet service from a second ISP in addition to your current one. For example, you might currently be on Comcast and you might also sign up with Verizon FIOS. Then, if your primary ISP has a service outage, you could (with some advance preparation and practice) switch over to your other ISP. And if they’re both working, you could also use them for different purposes at the same time, e.g., one for client or other external people, and the other for employees or family.

Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

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

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2020 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.

Printer-friendly version

Subscribe to this free newsletter

Go to the Newsletter Archive



To the Top

All original content copyright © 2002 - 2019 Martin Kadansky

Site designed and developed by and copyright © 2002 - 2007 ozbarron