This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
There’s really never a good time for your Wi-Fi to go out: Whatever you’re using the internet for at the time (streaming TV, gaming online, working from home or some combination of it all) comes to an abrupt and frustrating halt. An internet outage could also knock your Wi-Fi security cameras, smart light switches and other connected devices offline even when you’re away — not ideal.
While there’s not much you can do about an internet outage when you’re away from home, troubleshooting and resolving the occasional service disruption can be fairly quick and simple. Here are the most common reasons why your internet might go out and how to fix the problem, if possible. Spoiler alert: It’s not always the fault of your internet service provider. (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.)
Most common causes of home internet outages
Here are some of the top causes your internet may have dropped — we’ll dive into solutions for each below.
1. Modem/router malfunctions
2. Inadequate speeds or equipment
3. Hacking or network issues
4. Bad weather
5. ISP service outages and network congestion
Narrowing down the exact issue can take a bit of investigating and troubleshooting. Start by verifying the connection issue 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 accessible and working. If so, the problem likely lies with Netflix and not your internet connection. If you’re having an issue connecting to other streaming services, it could be that the smart TV or streaming device is to blame. Try streaming on another device, if possible, to verify that an internet outage is the culprit.
When your home internet connection goes out, it’s 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 allowing it to reboot. More often than not, this will resolve your outage.
When restarting your router, I’d recommend cutting power by unplugging it instead of pressing or holding any buttons on the device itself. Doing so can prompt the device to do a hard reset, returning it to factory settings and erasing your Wi-Fi network settings. Granted, the reset will likely re-establish your internet connection, but you’ll also have the extra 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 don’t go out when you unplug it from the power source, check to see if there are batteries installed somewhere and temporarily remove them when restarting your 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 lagging, Wi-Fi “dead zones,” and other connectivity issues could result from insufficient speed, bandwidth or Wi-Fi coverage to handle all your devices. There are two ways to remedy the situation: Scale back your internet expectations and use or make 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 (assuming one is available) will be your best option. Many cable and fiber internet providers offer speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or higher, which is plenty of speed for the average home.
On the other hand, if you feel your current plan should meet your needs, it’s possible your equipment is to blame. Conduct a few speed tests around your home to gauge what speeds you are getting and where the Wi-Fi signal might not be as strong. Sometimes simply relocating your router to a more efficient spot 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 extenders to boost the Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. If you rent equipment from a provider, call to ask about getting a better device.
Try adjusting your router settings
Your router should allow you to steer connected devices to a specific pod or extender, if you have them, and between 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. You’ll get a stronger signal on the 5GHz band, but only if your device is within range (the 5GHz range is shorter than 2.4GHz) and if there aren’t too many other devices connected to 5GHz. So, if your connection quality is weak on a particular device, try switching bands on the device or moving some of the other devices off the band you’re using.
Use a wired connection
Connecting directly to your modem, router or pods/extenders using 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-hogging devices, like smart TVs and gaming 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 compromised network. If hackers gain access to your Wi-Fi network, they could 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 make it difficult for a hacker to figure out.
Along with creating a strong password, be sure to keep all firmware on your router and any connected devices up to date to help prevent hacking attempts. Installing antivirus software will also help keep your devices protected. Many ISPs offer virus and malware protection at no extra cost.
Yes, Mother Nature can mess with your internet connection. Some internet connection types are more prone to internet outages than others during bouts of bad weather, but hard rain, a violent thunderstorm or even heavy cloud coverage could interfere with 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 a battery backup may help keep you connected during power outages, though they will be useless if the power outage is preventing internet service from reaching your modem in the first place.
If you have satellite internet, a rain guard, snow shield or dish heater can help prevent outages due to bad weather in the immediate area of your home. Signal interference can happen anywhere along the path between the satellite and your dish, however, and heavy cloud coverage or rain could have an impact on your connection even if it’s miles away. There’s not much you can do about an internet outage in that case, unfortunately; you’ll just have to wait for the signal to return.
DownDetector/Screenshot by CNET
ISP outages and network congestion
Despite the negative impression many people have about their internet providers, widespread ISP outages are uncommon and outages at a single residence are virtually unheard of (unless, of course, you forgot to pay the bill). Still, it’s possible that the provider is having issues.
If your internet is completely out and you’ve already tried restarting 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 on hold.
Other than confirming your ISP is having problems, there’s nothing you can do in such situations other than wait for service to return. Outages are bad publicity, so rest assured your ISP is doing everything in its power to restore service as quickly as possible.
Outages are rare but network congestion could be a much more frequent problem and, while it won’t always knock your connection out completely, it can certainly cause slowed speeds. Cable, DSL and satellite internet are vulnerable to network congestion, as is 5G home internet. T-Mobile acknowledges network congestion can lead to slowed speeds, stating that “during congestion, Home Internet customers may notice speeds lower than customers using other T-Mobile services due to data prioritization.”
Network congestion means the speeds coming to your home are slowed, so there isn’t much you can do about that other than wait for the congestion to clear. You can, however, make the most of the speeds you are getting 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 to try
Aside from the tips listed above, there are a couple of ways you may be able to 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 like you would if you were away from home. Keep in mind, however, 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 same as your router, but it will enable you to connect a few devices until your home network comes back.
Second, and perhaps only applicable for longer outages or urgent internet needs such as submitting a school assignment on time, would be to find a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Your local public library, coffee shop or restaurant, among many other public places, may offer free Wi-Fi.
Be mindful that using a public Wi-Fi connection is not as secure as your home network, so consider using a VPN or avoid any activity that involves sensitive data (passwords, banking info, doing your taxes, etc.) while on a public network.
Internet outage FAQs
Why does my internet keep going out?
There could be a number of factors that affect your internet connection. First, and most likely, is problems with your equipment. Restarting your modem/router should resolve the issue.
Other reasons why your internet may keep going out include inadequate speeds, network congestion and inclement weather. It’s possible that your provider is experiencing a service outage, but for frequent connection disruptions, I would look to the previously mentioned causes, starting with your router.
Can I get a partial refund for ISP outages?
Many providers do offer compensation for prolonged or frequent outages. Spectrum, for example, will provide “proportionate credit for those qualifying outages that last for 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 keep 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 those devices, rendering you unable to connect to the internet.