We often only care about broadband Internet troubleshooting when there’s no connection. But of course! There’s no need to do anything when all is well.
However, we can’t search the Internet to troubleshoot connection-related issues when, well, there’s no Internet. And the irony is when you call an ISP’s tech support line, chances are you’ll have to go through an automated section that advises you to visit the troubleshooting webpage.
So, kudos to you for reading this right now, when you’re still connected. It’s good to be well-prepared.
Before continuing, make sure you understand that Wi-Fi and Internet are two different things.
Aso, this post focuses mostly on the Internet connection. If you want to troubleshoot your Wi-Fi connections, check out this post on Wi-Fi dropping and connection issues.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on Jan 18, 2019, and last updated it on April 17, 2022, to add more relevant information.
Broadband Internet Troubleshooting: Four simple steps
Every network is different. Most importantly, you need to know if yours consists of a set of a terminal service and a router or a gateway. The latter is a device with a terminal device and a router inside a single hardware box.
To find out which is which, you can consult this post on home networking hardware.
But with all of them, you can apply these steps when you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection or have no Internet access. Often, the issue is minor and requires as little as a restart of the router or modem.
1. Take care of the basics
These are basic things you should do first before anything else.
The service (or website) might be unavailable
If you can’t go to a particular website or a service, the first thing to do is try a few different ones to see if they work.
That’s because many times, the specific site or service is unavailable. And that has nothing to do with your home network or broadband connection. The same idea applies when you can’t access Netflix but can still stream from YouTube.
In this case, all you can do is wait it out or call the particular service provider to find out more.
Your device’s Wi-Fi might be turned off
Make sure you haven’t accidentally turned off the Wi-Fi on the device.
This issue is common in laptops where you might switch on the Airplane mode by accident. It applies to some media streamers and IoT devices, such as printers.
Also, some routers have an on/off switch for the Wi-Fi function — make sure it’s in the on position.
Which Wi-Fi network you’re using?
That’s right. Ensure your device connects to the correct Wi-Fi network (and not one of your neighbors, for example.)
Connecting to the wrong Wi-Fi network will cause local tasks — such as network printing or file sharing — to fail.
Most importantly, you’d be troubleshooting the wrong network.
Are the cables intact and plugged in securely?
This issue can be relatively rare but it doesn’t hurt to make sure all the cables and wires are plugged in properly and intact — not cut, broken, or chewed up by pets.
All hardware devices (router, modem, ONT, gateway, switches, etc.) must be plugged into power and turned on. At the very least, you should see some lights coming out of them.
2. Figure out where the issue is
With the housekeeping taken care of, it’s time to find out where the problem is.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Can you connect to your Wi-Fi network? If you can’t, or your network is unavailable — you don’t see the Wi-Fi name on your phone — the problem is likely at the Wi-Fi router.
- If you can connect to your Wi-Fi network but you cannot access the Internet, then the issue is likely at the terminal device — chances are that’s the Cable modem or Fiber-optic ONT.
In any case, you can always start with the modem/ONT.
3. Broadband Internet troubleshooting: How to check the terminal device.
Your terminal device is your connection to the Internet. It needs to be in good shape. There are many types of terminal devices but the Cable modem and Fiber-optic ONT are the most popular.
If you use a modem, things are slightly different from when you use an ONT. But the idea is the same no matter what type of terminal device you use:
- Make sure the device has a live connection to the Internet. And
- It has a good connection to your Wi-FI router. (Applicable only when you use a separate router and not a gateway)
The detailed steps below apply when you use a Cable modem or a Fiber-optic ONT.
What to do with a modem
No matter what modem you use, it always has a broadband status light.
In most modems, such as the Motorola MB8600 below, this light tends to have a shape or a label that suggests that it has something to do with the Internet. Often it resembles a little globe or the letter E.
Here are two modems in action. One is a traditional design with a good set of status lights. The other is one with just a single status light which can be confusing in troubleshoting.
However, some modems, such as the ARRIS SURFboard S33, come with a single light that changes color to show the status. In this case, you must remember what color indicates it has no Internet connection.
In any case, here is what you can do at the modem.
- Give the modem a restart, then wait a few minutes for it to boot up fully. Often that fixes the problem. (If the modem is hard to reach, you can do this via its web interface. Almost all modems use the 192.168.100.1 default IP address.)
- Reset the service line: Undo it from the modem and crew it back in tightly.
- Check the broadband status light. It must show the correct color. In a traditional modem, the broadband light needs to be solid (green, blue, or white). If it’s off, red, or flashing erratically, ensure the service cable is intact and securely attached to the device.
If that doesn’t fix the issue, check to ensure there’s no outage in the area.
If nothing works and there’s no outage, it’s time to call your provider. At this point, there’s nothing you can do. Tell the customer support agent that you have no Internet signal at the modem. They’ll know what to do.
What to do with a Fiber-optic ONT
A Fiber-optic ONT is even more simple than a modem, but it also has a broadband light often labeled as PON or has a star symbol.
This light has to be solid. After that, make sure the Ethernet shows the connection status between the ONT and a router’s WAN port is also in good shape.
There are two things you can do to troubleshoot an ONT:
- Restart the ONT itself — unplug it from power and plug it back in.
- Reset the Fiber-optic service line — remove it from the ONT and then re-connect it.
In the photos above, the black cable is for power, and the green one is the service line.
If that doesn’t fix the issue, it’s time to call the provider.
4. Wi-Fi issues: What to do at the router
There are a couple of things you can do with the router. There are simple and advanced steps.
Simple things you can do with a router
These are steps anyone can do.
- Give the router a restart — unplug it from power, wait for 10 seconds or so, then plug it back in. Now give it a few minutes to boot up fully. That might fix the issue.
- Ensure the router’s Wi-Fi function is not turned off — many routers have an on/off switch for Wi-Fi. Generally, the router has a status light for its bands (5GHz and 2.4GHz). These lights need to be on.
Advanced steps in working with a router
These are general steps for advanced users or those comfortable with computers.
- Access the router’s web interface. Try updating its firmware to the latest.
- Access the router’s interface gain. This time, back up its settings, then reset it — yes, I do mean reset — and set up your network from scratch (or restore it from the backup file).
|Access code printed
on the hardware unit
Access code printed
on the hardware unit
|Most Cable Modems
If you can’t access the interface or don’t know how to reset it using the interface, you can reset it via the reset button. If all that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to get a new router or professional help.
Broadband Internet troubleshooting: How to get help
When you call for help, the person on the other end will try to troubleshoot the problem.
It would help if you told them exactly what has happened instead of what you think has happened or how you feel about what happened. Also, describe the issue instead of its consequences.
In other words, don’t give the person on the other end stuff that has no technical information. Examples: “I can’t get online,” “my internet doesn’t work,” “my computer doesn’t work,” “my Wi-Fi is not working,” etc.
Instead, be descriptive and explain exactly what happens. Such as, when I go to an XYZ website, I get an ABC message. Or give the person the error message or what you see on the hardware, such as the statutes, lights, etc.
It’s also helpful to take and share photos of the error messages and the device’s status lights. Visual is always useful when it comes to troubleshooting.
Internet, like all things in tech, is technical and dry. The best way to deal with them is to understand how things work. Getting frustrated or taking things personally won’t help.
Here’s the silver lining: If you pay attention and follow the instructions, it’s almost a guarantee that you can fix it. For this reason, dealing with machines is almost always easier than dealing with the emotions of our kind. I speak from experience.