There is hardly a good time for your internet to go out, but it always seems to happen at the worst possible time. Maybe you are streaming the finale of your favorite TV show, closing in on a rare victory online or take an important one job interview from home and of course there is internet. Even the best Wi-Fi connections can drop out from time to time and may require some troubleshooting to get back online.
Resolving occasional service disruptions is usually fairly quick and easy. Here are the most common reasons why your internet goes out and how to fix the problem, if possible. Spoiler alert: It’s not always your ISP’s fault.
(For more Wi-Fi tips, check out why your router may be in the wrong place and how to find free Wi-Fi anywhere in the world.)
Common causes of interruptions in the home internet
Here are some of the most common reasons why your internet might be dropped — we’ll dive into solutions for each one below.
1. Modem/router not working
2. Inadequate speeds or equipment
3. Hacking or network issues
4. Bad weather
5. ISP service interruptions and network congestion
Narrowing down the exact problem may take some investigation and troubleshooting. Start by checking that the connection problem isn’t specific to a single website, server, or device.
If you’ve lost your Netflix connection halfway through a show, check to see if other streaming services are still available and working. If so, the problem is most likely with Netflix and not your internet connection. If you’re having trouble connecting to other streaming services, it may be due to your smart TV or streaming device. Try streaming on another device, if possible, to verify that an internet outage is the culprit.
When your internet connection at home is interrupted, it is most likely due to a hiccup with your modem and/or router. The solution is often simple: Restart your equipment by unplugging it, waiting 10 seconds or so, plugging it back in, and letting it reboot. More often than not, this will resolve your hangup.
When you reboot your router, I recommend that you turn off the power by unplugging it instead of pressing or holding any button on the device itself. Doing so may prompt the device to perform a hard reset, restoring it to factory settings and erasing your Wi-Fi network settings. Sure, the reset will likely restore your internet connection, but you also have the added task of setting up your Wi-Fi again.
Also keep in mind that your device may have a battery backup. If the lights on your modem or router do not turn off when you disconnect it from the power source, check if there are batteries installed somewhere and temporarily remove them when you restart the device.
Inadequate speeds or equipment
Maybe your internet isn’t necessarily “out”, it just can’t keep up with what you’re trying to do or where you’re doing it.
Constant buffering, excessive lag, Wi-Fi “dead zones” and other connectivity issues can be caused by insufficient speed, bandwidth or Wi-Fi coverage to handle all your devices. There are two ways to remedy the situation: Lower your internet expectations and use or do some upgrades.
Consider the internet speeds you need and determine if your current plan can deliver those speeds. If your plan lacks the speeds you need, upgrading to a faster plan (provided one is available) will be your best option. Many cable and fiber internet providers offer speeds up to 1 gigabit per second or higher, which is plenty of speed for the average home.
On the other hand, if you feel your current plan will meet your needs, it’s possible your equipment is to blame. Run some speed tests around your home to gauge what speeds you’re getting and where the Wi-Fi signal might not be as strong. Sometimes just moving your router to a more efficient location will improve connection quality and eliminate or at least mitigate any dead zones.
Otherwise, you may want to invest in a better router or Wi-Fi extender to boost the Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. If you rent equipment from a supplier, call to ask about getting a better unit.
Try adjusting your router settings
Your router should allow you to control connected devices to a specific pod or extender, if you have them, and between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. You will get a stronger signal on the 5GHz band, but only if your device is in range (the 5GHz range is shorter than 2.4GHz) and if there are not too many other devices connected to 5GHz. So if your connection quality is weak on a particular device, try changing bands on the device or moving some of the other devices off the band you are using.
Use a wired connection
Connecting directly to your modem, router or pods/extender with an Ethernet cable will be your best bet for establishing and maintaining a strong connection. If possible, use a wired connection for the most bandwidth-hungry devices, such as smart TVs and game consoles. Not only will this often provide a better, faster connection, but it will also take some of the strain off your Wi-Fi network.
A less likely but still possible cause of an internet outage is a network intrusion. If hackers gain access to your Wi-Fi network, they can completely restrict your internet access to any or all devices.
If you suspect someone has gained unauthorized access to your network, immediately go to your router settings and recreate your Wi-Fi network with (preferably) a different network name and (definitely) a different password – one with some complexity or randomness that will making it difficult for a hacker to figure it out.
Along with creating a strong password, be sure to keep all firmware on your router and all connected devices up to date to prevent hacking attempts. Installing antivirus software also helps protect your devices. Many ISPs offer protection against viruses and malware at no extra cost.
Yes, Mother Nature can mess with your internet connection. Certain types of internet connections are more prone to outages than others during periods of bad weather, but heavy rain, a violent thunderstorm or even heavy cloud cover can disrupt your signal.
Satellite internet is the most vulnerable to internet outages caused by weather, but a power outage can knock any connection type offline. Having a modem and router with battery backup can help you stay connected during power outages, although they will be useless if the power outage prevents internet service from reaching your modem in the first place.
If you have satellite internet, a rain cover, snow cover or dish warmer can help prevent interruptions due to bad weather in the immediate vicinity of your home. However, signal interference can occur anywhere along the path between the satellite and your dish, and heavy cloud cover or rain can affect your connection even if it’s miles away. There’s not much you can do about an internet outage in that case, unfortunately; you just have to wait for the signal to come back.
DownDetector/Screenshot by CNET
ISP outages and network congestion
Despite the negative impression many people have of their ISPs, widespread ISP outages are rare, and outages in an individual residence are virtually unheard of (unless you forgot to pay the bill, of course). Nevertheless, it is possible that the provider has problems.
If your internet is completely down and you’ve already tried rebooting the router, check your provider’s social media pages, official website, or sources like downdector.com for updates and outage reports. You can also call customer service, but be prepared for a long wait.
Other than confirming that your ISP is having a problem, there is nothing you can do in such situations other than wait for service to come back. Outages are bad publicity, so rest assured that your ISP is doing everything in its power to restore service as quickly as possible.
Outages are rare but network congestion can be a much more common problem and while it doesn’t always knock out your connection completely, it can certainly cause slower speeds. Cable, DSL and satellite internet are vulnerable to network congestion, as is 5G home internet. T-Mobile acknowledges that network congestion can lead to slower speeds, saying that “during congestion, home Internet customers may notice slower speeds than customers using other T-Mobile services due to data prioritization.”
Network congestion means speeds arriving at your home are slowed down, so there’s not much you can do about it other than waiting for the congestion to clear. However, you can make the most of the speeds you get by placing your router in an optimal location, adjusting your Wi-Fi settings, or using an Ethernet connection, as mentioned above.
Internet still out? Here’s what else you can try
Aside from the tips listed above, there are a couple of ways you can get back online.
The first is by using your mobile connection. Your phone will likely automatically switch to cellular service if your Wi-Fi goes out, so you’ll be able to use your phone just as you would if you were away from home. However, keep in mind that doing so will use up your mobile data.
Additionally, some phones, carriers and plans allow you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. It probably won’t power your home the way your router does, but it will allow you to connect a few devices until your home network comes back up.
Second, and perhaps only applies to longer interruptions or urgent internet needs like turning in a school assignment on time, would be finding a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Your local public library, coffee shop or restaurant, among many other public places, may offer free Wi-Fi.
Keep in mind that using a public Wi-Fi connection is not as secure as your home network, so consider using a VPN or avoid any activity involving sensitive data (passwords, banking information, taxes, etc.) when on a public network .
Frequently asked questions about internet outages
Why does my internet keep going out?
There can be a number of factors affecting your internet connection. First and most likely is a problem with your equipment. Rebooting the modem/router should solve the problem.
Other reasons why your internet may keep going out include insufficient speeds, network congestion and bad weather. It’s possible your provider is experiencing a service outage, but for frequent connection drops I’d look at the previously mentioned causes, starting with your router.
Can I get a partial refund for ISP outages?
Many providers offer compensation for prolonged or frequent interruptions. Spectrum, for example, will provide “pro-rated credit for those qualifying outages lasting 4 or more consecutive hours.” Call to report the outage as soon as possible and monitor how long it lasts before requesting a refund.
Will a power outage knock out my internet service?
Not always, but probably. When the power goes out, it won’t necessarily stop internet service from reaching your home, but it can certainly limit your ability to use the internet. Unless your modem and router have a battery backup, a power outage will disable these devices, leaving you unable to connect to the internet.