There are few things in life as frustrating as an "Address Not Found" message in your Web browser. Timed-out connections, a little red X in your network connection icon, or an "Internet Explorer cannot display the Web page" error screen all add up to the same dismal problem -- something's wrong with your Internet connection.
Finding and fixing the problem is never easy, mainly because there are so many places where something can go wrong. We're going to walk you through five relatively easy steps that will solve the majority of broadband Internet connection problems, no matter what kind of Internet service you use. We'll have you up and running, reading celebrity gossip and updating your Facebook status in no time.
Check the Wires
It may seem obvious, but one of the easiest troubleshooting steps you can take yourself is to check all the cables and connections involved in your Internet connection. This is true no matter what kind of connection you have. Even if you're sure nothing has changed, it only takes a minute to make sure.
Start where your Internet service enters your house. This might be your cable company's line drop, a satellite dish antenna or a phone line. Make sure the cable is connected securely, and any cabling that runs outside the house hasn't been damaged by weather or chewed on by birds, bugs or squirrels. Just be careful if there are any electrical lines around -- and if you see damaged lines of any kind, don't touch them, just call the cable or phone company.
Next, follow the cables through your house, checking connections at every appropriate point. If you use a router, check those connections, too, and make sure the correct cable is going to the correct place. If your router feeds several different computers or gaming systems, it can get confusing to keep track of which cable goes where.
If the cabling and connections seem OK, the next step is to power cycle your modem.
Power cycling might sound exciting, but it just means turning your modem off, waiting a few seconds, then turning it on again. This works regardless of your connection type, whether you get your Internet via cable, DSL or satellite. The easiest way to turn it off is to disconnect the power cord where it plugs into the modem itself (they don't always have on/off switches, but if yours does, that should work, too). Wait about 30 seconds, and then plug it in again. Sometimes, that's all it takes. Once the modem has cycled through its usual boot-up sequence, you may find your connection works again.
If this doesn't do the trick, a more elaborate power cycling sequence might. You'll have to turn off every device on your network, then power them on again in a particular order.
First, shut off your computer, then unplug the power cords from your modem, router, access point and hub.When you turn things on again, follow the signal from the modem toward the computer. In other words, power up the modem first, then power up your router or hub, then turn on your computer last. As you turn on each device, wait for it go through its boot-up sequence before powering up the next device in line. You can determine the status by watching the lights on the device itself.
Still no connection? If you use a satellite Internet service, we'll troubleshoot your unique problems in the next section.
Weathering Storms with Satellite Internet Connections
If you access the Internet with a satellite service, you have your own set of issues to deal with. The first potential issue is line of sight. Satellite Internet connections use a special two-way dish, and the dish has to be pointed directly at the satellite at a very particular angle. The problems start when anything gets between your antenna and the satellite.
Overgrown greenery, snow and ice or leaves and other debris could be blocking your dish, so you'll have to get to the dish to clear it off. This can be especially difficult if it's mounted on the roof.
Odd as it may seem, weather hundreds of miles away can also affect your satellite connection. Because the satellite is over the equator, your dish points south (that is, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere). The farther you are from the equator, the less direct the line of sight is. Your dish has to send and receive signals through a long stretch of atmosphere to the south, so southerly storms many miles away can still cause interference.
If there's nothing in the way, and the weather is clear from your roof all the way to Guatemala, your dish might be misaligned. If it isn't pointing in the proper direction, your connection will fail. Satellite dish antennas require much more precise adjustment than TV dish antennas do - it's probably a good idea to call your Internet service provider for help, rather than trying to adjust it yourself.
And on top of that, the problem might be beyond everyone's control. Sunspots are massive flares on the surface of the sun that send intense blasts of energy at the Earth. That energy can severely disrupt satellite communications.
Next, we'll diagnose some common wireless problems.
Wireless Router Outages
If you use a wireless access point or wireless router to access the Internet with a laptop, then the wireless connection might be the cause of your problem. You may have to use a wired connection to your network until the wireless problem is solved. You'll also want to have a copy of your wireless access point or router's user manual nearby.
There are two main potential issues with wireless connections: configuration problems and security problems. Consult the user manual to see how to access the wireless device -- this is usually done by typing the device's IP address into a Web browser. From there, you'll need to check the manual to find the proper settings. You'll probably have to call your Internet service provider (ISP) for assistance, because the necessary configuration will vary tremendously depending on the type of network you have and the type of connection provided by your ISP.
The wireless device's security settings could also be causing problems. You can access these settings the same way you accessed the configuration. If you have a wireless security protocol enabled, you won't be able to access the wireless device without using the proper password. You can set and reset the password the same way you can change the other settings.
If none of these steps have solved your connection problem, there are still a few last-ditch efforts you can attempt.
More Cable and Configuration Problems
Chances are, part of your home network involves cat5 or cat5e Ethernet cables. If you're using the wrong kind of cable, it could defeat your Internet connection efforts. Crossover cable should only be used to connect two computers directly. If you're connecting devices with a hub or router, straight-through cables should be used. How can you tell the difference? Sometimes crossover cables are labeled by the manufacturer. If not, it's a bit technical to figure out (it involves checking the pairs of wires at the connectors). If possible, just try a different cable to see if that helps.
The problem might be with the computer you're trying to connect to the Internet. Network configuration troubleshooting depends on operating system, connection type and other factors. If your computer has a network icon, it might displays a red X or other error message if there's a problem. If there's no error message and your connection still won't work, some operating systems have the ability to self-diagnose to determine if there's another issue.
If everything else seems to be working OK, then the problem might be with your ISP. Contact its technical support line and ask. If the ISP isn't suffering an outage (they do, from time to time), technical support representatives might walk you through some of the steps you already went though, and they may even be able to test your connection or reset your modem.
For more information on broadband connections and related topics, make a connection to the next page.
Do you know how to find the right laptop? Find out how to find the right laptop in this article from HowStuffWorks.
- Microsoft. "How to troubleshoot possible causes of Internet connection problems in Windows XP." (April 13, 2009)http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314095
- Microsoft. "Troubleshooting network connection problems." (April 14, 2009) http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/networking/maintain/troubleshoot.mspx
- AT&T. "Troubleshooting your High Speed Internet connection problems." (April 12, 2009)http://helpme.att.net/viewlets/dsl/connectivity/index.shtml