Nobody should have to live with internet problems, but most of us end up dealing with them sooner or later. Whether you are dealing with slow internet or failing Wi-Fi, there are several solutions you can try. There may even be ways to address your internet concerns without spending a dime!
Let’s walk through some practical solutions for how to get better internet service, including quick changes to settings and equipment, upgrading your internet plan, and finding a new internet service provider.
Easy Internet Fixes to Try First
It would be a shame if you spent time and money finding a new internet plan when a simple, free solution was available. If these options work, then you can get back to your HBO Max streaming binge in no time.
- Reset your modem and router. Unplug both devices and remove their batteries if they have them. Wait five minutes, and then reinsert the batteries and plug the devices back in. It may take a couple minutes for the machines to fully power up.
- Upgrade your router's firmware. Check your router manufacturer’s website for the latest version of its firmware and instructions on how to install it. To complete this step, you’ll need to be able to log in to your router.
- Move your router to a central location. Both distance and obstructions such as walls and furniture can cause poor Wi-Fi performance. The easiest fix is to keep your router out in the open, near the center of your home.
Diagnosing Your Internet Problems
Not all internet issues require the same fix, so you’ll need to narrow down the problem to find the easiest, fastest solution.
Your Wi-Fi Has Limited Range
There are several ways to extend your Wi-Fi range if your Wi-Fi slows down or you experience frequent Wi-Fi connection issues as you get farther away from your router. If your router is already in a central location, then you may need an access point or mesh network to extend your Wi-Fi range.
Your Wi-Fi Is Slow
Have you tried connecting your device directly to your router using an ethernet cord? If your wired connection is fast and your Wi-Fi isn’t, then your steps for getting faster internet should focus on your router and Wi-Fi settings. You may be able to improve your slow Wi-Fi by changing the wireless band (2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz) you’re using or switching to an open Wi-Fi channel.
Old routers are limited in their ability to keep up with today’s internet speeds. Check your router to see what wireless standard it uses. On the sticker, there should be a line that says “Dual-band Wireless AC/N,” “Wireless N Router,” or something along those lines. You need to find the one- or two-letter sequence — A, B, G, N, AC, etc. N and AC are both new enough for most uses, but AC is better. If it says A, B, G, or some combination of those, it’s probably time to upgrade your router.
Your Internet Slows Down Later in the Month
Many internet providers include data caps in their plans. Sometimes these caps require you to pay extra after you use a specified amount of data, but internet plans often include soft caps that slow down your internet after you hit the limit. If your internet slows down toward the end of your billing cycle, you probably have a soft cap. Check the fine print on your bill; that’s usually where soft caps are mentioned.
Your Internet Is Slow During Peak Hours
This one is a cable-specific issue. Cable internet service can slow down when more people go online in your area. If your internet connection slows down during specific hours — usually in the evening — there’s probably nothing wrong with your equipment. In this case, getting a faster plan probably won’t help, but switching to a different internet provider could offer a solution.
Your Internet Is Always Slow
We’ve ruled out most of the usual suspects, but there’s still one more thing to check before you replace your internet plan: your modem. Modem technology doesn’t change as fast as router tech, but modems still don’t last forever. If you are renting your modem from your internet provider, contact them to see whether you are due for an upgrade. If you bought the modem more than five years ago, you may want to consider an upgrade.
If your modem isn’t the problem, it may be time to upgrade your internet plan or find a new internet provider.
Switching Internet Providers vs. Upgrading Your Plan
It’s almost always easier to get a faster plan from your current internet provider than it is to find a new provider. Most areas have only a small number of internet providers to choose from. If you are looking for internet in a rural area, then your options may be even more limited.
There are a few cases, though, where upgrades simply won’t have a significant impact.
- If you have a digital subscriber line (DSL) and you live too far from the nearest DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM), then your speeds may be severely impacted. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell how far you are from your local DSLAM, but your internet provider may be able to tell you.
- If you have cable internet, then you can’t get around peak-hour congestion with an upgrade since you’ll still be using the same congested lines.
- When you’re hitting a soft data cap, an upgrade will help only if the new plan has a higher data cap.
Even if you think switching to a new internet provider is your best option, you could always try upgrading your current plan for a month to see whether your slow internet goes away. You can typically do it without worrying about contracts, new equipment, or installation fees, making it the easier, faster, and sometimes cheaper way to resolve your internet problems.
Upgrading to a Better Internet Service, Step by Step
Figure Out Your Internet Needs
Better internet service doesn’t just mean faster speeds. Consider your current internet issues and what you want to be able to do on the web. The ideal plan for an internet gamer may be different than the plan for a family that needs to stream video on five devices at once.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Bandwidth. When people talk about internet speed, they often mean bandwidth, a measure of how much data the connection can transfer per second. More bandwidth is important for high-quality video streaming or if you have several devices using your network at the same time.
- Upload and download speed. These are measurements of the bandwidth for data going from the internet to your computer (download) or from your computer to the internet (upload).
- Latency. Latency is the amount of time it takes for your computer to send a signal to the internet and receive a response. Lower latency (meaning less “lag” and a faster experience) is crucial for interactive applications such as gaming and video chat.
- Data caps. Data caps are limits on the amount of data you can transfer before you are charged extra or your internet speed is throttled.
Find Available Internet Providers
You can use the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband map to find broadband providers that service your area. Take note of the type of internet and bandwidth, both of which are included in the FCC’s list. You can also find providers in your ZIP code using the search box on our internet provider page.
Check Internet Provider Reviews
Ideally, we’d live in a world without hidden fees, poor customer service, and low-quality internet service. Since this isn’t that world, you should check reviews of your available internet providers. Make sure to look for any installation costs, contracts, or anything else that may lock you into a plan with a sub-par internet provider.
Compare Plans Between Providers
Now that you know what you need and what options you have, it’s time to pick the best internet provider for your needs. Check the fine print, because that’s where you’ll find information about any data caps they may impose. This is a good chance to look for any deals the providers are running that could save you money over the first year or two of your new service.
Sign Up and Sign On
Once you sign up for its service, your new internet provider should take care of the rest. They’ll provide rental equipment if you need it and work with you to find an installation time. After that, you’ll be ready to get back to all your streaming, gaming, and social media fun.
Better, Faster, Stronger Internet
Slow or poor-quality internet can be caused by a range of issues, from your equipment and its settings to your service plan or internet provider. Some of the easiest solutions — such as upgrading your router firmware and resetting your router — should be part of regular maintenance. Sometimes, though, the only real fix is to switch to a new internet plan or a better internet provider.
Hope is just around the corner if you are in a rural area or a broadband dead zone and you can’t find a plan that fits your needs. New internet technologies such as 5G and Starlink promise to bring fast, affordable internet to consumers everywhere. CordCutting.com is keeping a close eye on those and other internet transformations, so check back frequently to learn when these new technologies are coming to your area.