Kudos to you for reading about broadband Internet troubleshooting right now!
Clearly, you're connected. If you wait until you can't get online to worry about this kind of thing -- as most of my friends who have my number on their speed dial do -- you'd be in a pickle. You can't use the Internet to troubleshoot or look for instructions, especially when there's no cell signal.
And I've had many experiences calling the Internet service provider for help with being disconnected only to have an automated message pointing me to a specific troubleshooting webpage. If I could do that, I wouldn't have called in the first place.
So, it's good to be well-prepared to avoid that catch-22 scenario.
Let's dive in!
Wi-Fi and the Internet are two different things -- you're reading about the former. This post on Wi-Fi dropping and local connection issues will help tackle the latter.
Dong's note: I first published this post on January 18, 2019, and last updated it on March 3, 2023, to add more relevant information.
Broadband Internet Troubleshooting: Four simple steps
Every network is different, but all have a broadband terminal device -- likely a Cable modem or a Fiber-optic ONT -- and a router. Sometimes, those two are combined in a single hardware box called a residential gateway.
Which hardware is your Internet setup? That's the first thing you should know. The table below gives you a quick idea.
|Device Type||Broadband Terminal Device|
(Cable Modem/Fiber-optic ONT)
(including the primary unit of a Wi-Fi mesh system)
|Internet-Related Role||Brings Internet to your home|
(via the service line)
|Brings the Internet to your devices |
(via network cables or Wi-Fi)
|Local Role||Connect to a wide area network (WAN) -- the Internet||Creates a local area network (LAN) network||Both|
|Maintain a wide area network (WAN) public IP address||Assigns and manages LAN IP addresses to local devices||Both|
No matter if you have an ONT, a modem, or a gateway, 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 o the hardware involved.
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 (like dongknowstech.com) or a service (such as Netflix), the first thing to do is try a few different ones to see if they work.
Many times, the specific party you want to access is unavailable. And that has nothing to do with your home network or broadband connection. In this case, you can only wait it out.
Your device’s Wi-Fi might be turned off
That's right. You might have accidentally turned off the Wi-Fi on the router or the device you're using.
This issue is common in laptops where you might accidentally switch on the Airplane mode. It applies to some media streamers and IoT devices, such as printers. These tend to have a button to turn the Wi-Fi function on or off.
Some routers also have a similar on/off switch for the Wi-Fi function. There's no Wi-Fi if you turn it off. If so, turn it back on!
Which Wi-Fi network you’re using?
This can also be a frustrating case. Your device must be connected 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 ensure 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
If you have taken care of the housekeeping above and the issue persists, it's time to do some digging to locate the problem.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Can you connect a device to your Wi-Fi network? If you can't, or the Wi-Fi 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 cannot access the Internet, the issue is likely at the broadband terminal device.
In any case, you can always start with your Cable modem or Fiber-optic ONT. It doesn't hurt.
3. Broadband Internet troubleshooting: How to check the Internet terminal device
Your terminal device is the actual hardware piece that connects your home to the Internet. There are many terminal types, but the Cable modem and Fiber-optic ONT are the most popular.
These two are slightly different -- more in this post on cable modem vs Fibe-optic ONT -- but no matter what type of terminal device you use, you need to ensure two things:
- The device has a good connection to your Wi-Fi router. And
- It has a live link to the Internet.
The first item is to check and ensure that the network cable connecting the two is intact and securely plugged in on both ends -- it goes into the WAN port of the router. Use a new cable if need be.
The second item -- the terminal device's live Internet connection -- won't take long, either, but it requires some attention.
How to handle a Cable modem or a Fiber-optic ONT
The tabs below contain detailed steps to check the Internet signal on a Cable modem or a Fiber-optic ONT.
All modems have a broadband status light, a.k.a "signal" or "sync" light.
In most modems, this light tends to have a shape or a label that suggests it has something to do with the Internet. Often it resembles a little globe or has the letter E.
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.
Here are what you can do at the modem if the broadband status light is off or shows that it has no signal from the provider:
- Check the broadband status light. It must show the correct color. In a traditional modem, the broadband light must be solid (green, blue, or white). If it's not lid, red, or flashing erratically, ensure the service cable is intact and securely attached to the device. Then, you should:
- give the modem a restart, then wait a few minutes for it to boot up fully. Often that fixes the problem.
- reconnect the service line: Unplug it from the modem and re-connect it tightly.
If all that doesn't fix the issue, then:
- Check to ensure there's no outage in the area (or you can check that first before checking the modem.) If there's no outage, then:
- Call your Internet provider. At this point, there's nothing you can do. Tell the customer support agent you have no Internet signal at the modem. They'll check on their end and fix the issues. Sometimes, if your modem no longer works or is supported, they will tell you to get a replacement.
If your modem appears fine, you might want to also re-connect both ends of the network cable that link the modem and your router. Or even replace it to make sure.
A Fiber-optic ONT is more simple than a modem. It also has a broadband light often labeled as PON or has a star symbol.
This light has to be solid. After that, ensure the Ethernet shows the connection status between the ONT and the router's WAN port is also in good shape.
There are three things you can do to troubleshoot an ONT -- you can do one or all three at a time but be gentle with the wires involved:
- Restart the ONT itself -- unplug it from power for about 10 seconds and plug it back in. Then give it a few minutes to fully boot up.
- Re-connect the Fiber-optic service line -- remove it from the ONT and then re-connect it.
- Re-connect the network cable connecting the ONT and your router. Sometimes you might want to use a different cable.
In the photos above, the black cable is for power, and the green one is for the service line.
If that doesn't fix the issue -- the broadband light is still off or shows disconnected status -- it's time to call the provider to report the problem. There's nothing else you can do.
If your terminal device:
- shows a live Internet connection, and
- its connected wires are in good shape,
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 take:
- 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 each band (5GHz, 2.4GHz, or 6GHz). 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).
(Internet connection required)
|AT&T Gateway||n/a||192.168.1.254||n/a||Access code printed |
on the hardware unit
Access code printed
on the hardware unit
(printed on hardware)
|Most Cable Modems||N/A||192.168.100.1||n/a||admin|
In case 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.
You should describe exactly what has happened instead of what you think has occurred, the consequences of the problem, or how you feel about what happened.
In other words, don't give the person on the other end stuff without 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 status lights, etc.
It's also helpful to take and share photos of the error messages and the device itself. 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.