Solving your internet problems means understanding how your broadband works. There are three parts to a home broadband connection: the line, the router and your computer. Some providers can charge you a lot if they send someone over and the fault turns out to be with you, so it's important to diagnose the problem and stick to your guns.
Internet problems troubleshooting steps
This guide will work for all internet connection problems of all types. For 3G or 4G (USB) connections, stop at the third step. If you connect with cable or a fibre-optic package, stop at the fifth step. For ADSL connections, the entire guide should help ensure you've accurately diagnosed the problem.
1. Make sure it's definitely broken
If a page you're trying to reach isn't loading, try some other web pages, ideally using a different browser. Try sending yourself a message if you have Outlook or another e-mail client set up. If any of these work, your internet is okay; if none of them work, you have a problem.
2. Ping Google
A ping is a tiny bit of data that your computer sends to another computer to check that a connection works. It's like saying 'hello' when you pick up the phone: If someone says hello back, you start a conversation, and if they don't, you hang up and redial. A ping will dial four times then stop.
To ping Google from a Mac: Open Applications > Utilities > Terminal. A little box will come up. Type "ping www.google.com", then press the return or enter key.
To ping Google from Windows: Run a search for CMD. Depending upon which version of Windows you're running, this can be done by clicking on a magnifying glass, by clicking on the search function or by hitting the Start menu and typing into the search bar. Your search will bring up a black box. In it type "ping www.google.com".
If it says "reply from" followed by some numbers (most likely 'reply from 184.108.40.206'), then your internet is working. If it says anything like 'request timed out', 'destination host unreachable' or something else that sounds bad, then you definitely have a problem.
3. Check that it's all plugged in and turned on
At the very least, you need the phone line going into your router and your router going to your PC. If you use a dongle, try a different USB port.
If everything is plugged in and turned on and your internet still isn't working, try resetting your router or turning it off and on again.
If you have mobile broadband, then you won't have a router and there's nothing more you can do. Phone your provider and get their advice. If you have fibre or ADSL, keep reading for more troubleshooting advice.
4. Are you wireless?
If so, plug your laptop directly into the router using a cable. Can you get internet? Assuming you can, it's your wireless settings that you need to look at. If not, it's the router or the line.
5. What is your IP address?
Every device needs an IP address to connect to the internet. A valid home IP address should start with '192.something'. A non-valid IP will always start '169.something'.
To find your IP address on a Mac: Open System Preferences > Network. If you're connected to the internet, your IP address should be listed under the status.
To find your IP address on Windows: Open the Command screen again, then type "ipconfig".
This will return a bunch of text and numbers, so look for an entry that says "IP address". A valid home IP address will probably start with 192.168.x.x. If it starts with 169.x.x.x, then there's a problem with your router.
169 means the router didn't give your computer a valid IP address, which means the two aren't communicating properly. Contact your provider for advice.
If you have a cable connection, there's nothing else you can try, so if none of these steps have worked, call your cable provider and ask for their help. ADSL users, continue on for our final troubleshooting advice.
6. Test the microfilter
This is the little white box that you plug into your phone socket. One side will have a phone cable, the other will have the internet cable.
Pull one out, then the other, and replace one by one to see if the cables themselves are at fault. If this doesn't help, your network is OK and it's probably the line.
7. Test the line
Plug a phone directly into the wall socket. If it works, the line is OK. If it doesn't, phone your provider.
8. Phone your provider and tell them everything you've done
They may ask you to perform one or two more checks for them, but on the whole, that should be enough to get someone out.
That may seem long-winded, but the reason there are so many little steps is that the providers will charge you if they send someone out and it's your fault. It's very tempting to phone your provider whenever you have a problem and demand that an engineer visit you immediately, but this can cost you money.
If it turns out the line is OK and it's your equipment that's faulty, you still have to pay.
More technical? Let's look at microfilters!
The majority of homes in the UK have something called a master socket where the phone wiring ends and yours starts. It's the little box on the wall that you plug your telephone/internet/microfilter into.
There are different versions of this box, and you need the one with the horizontal line running across the middle and two screws, left and right, holding it in.
By removing the screws, the bottom half of the faceplate comes off and the internal wiring is disabled. Look on the right and you'll see a test socket.
This is a direct link to the incoming line, skipping out all of your internal wiring.
Plug your microfilter into this and connect your broadband modem/router. If this instantly fixes your problems, you know that the issue relates to your internal wiring or microfilters.
If your microfilter works when connected to the master socket, but not when the faceplate is on, simply remove the faceplate and plug your microfilter into the test socket. Then plug the faceplate's connector into the microfilter output.
Finally, connect your broadband cable to the filter. It’s not pretty but it may do the trick and keep you connected until an engineer comes out.
Incorrectly placed or faulty microfilters cause a lot of broadband errors. If you use a splitter to connect two phones to the same socket, make sure you plug the microfilter into the wall socket first and then connect the splitter to the microfilter.
Don’t get carried away with microfilters, though. If you have two on a single phone socket or an extension cable, this may cause problems.
You can hear noise on the line
If you are having trouble connecting to your ISP and you are hearing noise on the telephone line, it's probably a fault.
Should this be the case, your provider can check the line and identify what and where the problem is (e.g. inside your house or at your local exchange).
Still have problems with line noise?
Again, this is probably a problem with your microfilters either being faulty or not connected properly. Here is a test you can carry out:
Disconnect all of your ADSL equipment, including filters, leaving your telephone as the only thing connected, then see if the noise still persists.
You can also do a quiet line test by dialling 17070 and selecting option 2, once again. If the noise continues it is probably a line problem.
If it doesn’t make any sound, then connect your microfilter to the master socket, connect the phone and listen again.
If you hear a noise, the filter is most likely faulty so try another one.
If none of the above works and your provider has confirmed there is nothing wrong with the line, you are advised to chat to a telecoms or electrical engineer to fix the problem.