Internet problems? Here’s how to tell if it’s your ISP’s fault

Man sitting at desk with laptop, holding his head in frustration

Nobody likes internet outages. It can leave you feeling completely paralyzed in your ability to work or communicate, control your home, or monitor your security system. But in these situations, how do you know who is to blame?

If it’s not you, it’s them

As remote working and smart home setups become more common, our tolerance for connection failures is rapidly diminishing. Losing connection is a common intermittent phenomenon, but what do you do when the problem becomes relentless and unmanageable? If your problems become persistent, it’s possible that the root of the problem has nothing to do with your equipment or settings, but rather is due to an issue on the side of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and may require a special line technician intervene.

This may be easier said than done.

Appointments with a home technician almost never happen on the day you call with a complaint. In fact, there’s a good chance that dates will be booked up to a month, and bringing in a line technician is particularly tricky. Line technicians are different from home technicians who usually answer calls from home. Line technicians solve problems arising from the main connection to the cable line outside your home.

Multiple lines connected to a single pole

In cities, these main connections, or “drops,” typically end near high-voltage power lines and transformers, not to mention the seemingly endless tangles of cables, lines, and wires. The height, danger and complexity of line maintenance means that line technicians require special licensing and are very expensive. Your ISP won’t be too keen to send out the big guns for any old internet problem.

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Eliminate user-side issues

Before you embark on the pursuit of a line repair, it is important that you take a calculated approach to ensure that the problem is, in fact, a problem that needs to be fixed by your supplier and not something on your end. . ISP customer support agents and home technicians will try to say anything to avoid blame if you’re not prepared with a comprehensive list of user-side troubleshooting steps you’ve already checked. We will start from square one.

You may have tried several, or even all of them, but the checklist below will ensure you have looked at your issues from all angles before you tackle the task of bringing in a line technician. Document your findings as you progress through this list.

Check connectivity on another device

If you’re having a connection problem, try signing in and testing your connection on another device of the same type. For accurate results, use to get a gauge of your upload and download speeds.

Try restarting the problematic device

You’ll be able to tell quickly if the entire network is down, but if the problem is isolated to a single device, turn it off completely, unplug it from power, and remove the batteries if possible. Wait at least 30 seconds and turn the device back on. If the problem persists, proceed to the next step.

Restart your router

Unplug the router from power, wait at least 30 seconds, then turn it back on. If that doesn’t fix the problem, continue to the next step.

To note: If you have local file sharing or network storage devices, you should still be able to use them normally, even if there is no internet connection to the outside world. If these protocols are working properly, this additionally indicates a problem with the cabling, modem, or trunk line connection.

Restart your modem

Follow the same routine as for rebooting the router. Unplug for 30 seconds and turn back on.

To note: If you rent your equipment from your ISP, your modem and router are probably combined into one device.

Check the modem lights

Your modem will likely have at least four lights on the front flashing during the power-up process. These LEDs indicate the status of four important parameters: power, downlink, uplink, and Internet connection. They indicate success by lighting up solidly. If one of these LEDs does not light solid and continues to flash, it may be telling you the source of your incoming signal.

A network modem with four lights on
Kipp Burroughs
  • To be able to: Indicates that the modem is connected to power and turned on.
  • Downlink: This light is usually symbolized by an arrow pointing down and indicates that the modem has established a connection with a downstream channel. This or these channels bring data internet to your home/business.
  • Uplink: This LED is usually an arrow pointing up and indicates an attempted/successful connection to a upstream channel. This carries data from your home/business to the web.
  • The Internet: This light is usually stylized as a globe and indicates that the Internet is available. This light will not come on if one of the three previous light confirmations fails.

Diagnose the signal quality of your cable

If the previous steps did not yield any improvement, you can assess the quality of its cable connection through the modem’s Graphical User Interface (GUI). This interface is accessible using a normal web browser. This is where you can find information about signal quality and power levels.

If you have a device with an Ethernet port, use it to connect directly to one of the available ports on your modem. If you don’t have an Ethernet-enabled device, try using your Wi-Fi connection. The following instructions are for a standalone modem. If you are using a router/modem combo rented from your ISP, you may be redirected to a webpage prompting you to enter your account login information.

To note: Depending on your network configuration, access to the modem’s GUI via WiFi may not be possible. Contact your ISP for more information.

Now open any web browser. Type your modem’s IP address in the address bar. This address varies between manufacturers, but the most common addresses are and Once you have entered the correct IP address, you will be greeted by a web page displaying your modem manufacturer’s logo. Use the page to access the status page. Once there, you can analyze your power levels.

Analyzed using the RCN Merlin tool
Kipp Burroughs

Ideal power levels may vary depending on your router’s DOCSIS specifications. However, the modem used for this example is the Arris Surfboard 8200. It is one of the most popular modems in the world, and its firmware is used in the majority of modem/router combos leased by ISPs. So there is a good chance that these target values ​​apply to you

  • Downstream power levels should be between -7 and +7 dBmV.
  • Upstream power levels should be between 38 and 48 dBmV.

Interpret your level readings

Any power levels outside the above ranges should be noted, especially excessive upstream power values. Contrary to what your gut might tell you, high upstream power values ​​indicate low power levels. Once your upstream power value exceeds 48 dBmV, it means your modem has to work harder to produce adequate upstream power. Once this value reaches 53 dBmV, the modem will automatically shut down and retry the connection. This often results in a boot loop that prevents the modem from connecting for hours or even days.

This is the most common cause of repeated modem connection failures due to power issues.

For more information, see how to read modem diagnostics.

And now?

Whether or not your power level investigation yielded meaningful results, you’ll still want to assess your environment for last-minute fixes. First, check for breakdowns. Visit your ISP’s Twitter and check for posts regarding outages or system maintenance.

If that doesn’t work, sites like Downdetector can provide more information. These sites are online communities where service users can report disruptions. If your problems relate to a larger local outage, you may just have to wait. If there is no larger fault, proceed to check your modem and cabling environment.

Eliminate overheating problems

Your modem should be placed in a cool, dry place with access to fresh air. Like any electronic device, your modem can be subject to overheating if placed on carpeting or in small, enclosed spaces. Make sure your modem is not placed in direct sunlight.

Interference from environmental signals

Your modem and the cable that provides your broadband should be placed at a safe distance from any possible source of radio interference. This includes microwaves, air conditioners, refrigerators and other major appliances. Take note if your connection seems to be affected while using a certain device.

Inspect your cable

Outdoor internet cables
Kipp Burroughs

Finally, you’ll want to trace and inspect the placement and physical quality of the cable line itself. This may not be possible if your wiring is hidden in your walls. However, if your cable runs along the outside of your building like mine, trace its full length as far as you can safely go.

Keep a close eye out for things that may indicate a damaged cable. Physical deformities such as cracked insulation, animal chew marks, or sharp bends could be the root of your internet problems. In this case, you would probably need a new cable.

Connection points must be dry and free of corrosion. In addition to physical strain, keep an eye out for unnecessary splitters along your cable run. Splitters are small metal devices used to create two cable outlets from one inlet. They are commonly used to deliver cable TV to multiple televisions in the home. Their usefulness is fading as the world moves towards increased access to internet-based entertainment.

While separators are great for multiplying entries television signal, they can produce unstable broadband signal. Remove all splitters from your cable run if possible. To do this, simply unscrew the connectors as you would on a modem or cable TV. You will end up with two male coaxial connectors. To connect them, prepare with a coaxial coupler.

Prepare your results list and request an inspection online

With this checklist at your fingertips, you have the knowledge and terminology to compel your ISP to take further action to resolve your connectivity issues and compensate you for past downtime. It can be a long and trying effort. Be persistent, and good luck!

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