What to Do When Your ISP has an Outage

WOW aka Knology or Wow and soon to be MIDCO had a major outage recently.  Outages are disappointing, but can be expected.  Nothing works right all the time.

Is it You or Them? The Power Cycle Dance

Photo by Sean MacEntee – http://flic.kr/p/fQoVsh

When you can’t get online, you’ll always want to do a few standard things in this order:

  1. Shutdown your computer. Not just put it to sleep, but pick the Shutdown command on your operating system.
  2. If you have a router, unplug the power to the router.
  3. Unplug the power to your cable modem.

Wait about a minute and reverse the process:

  1. Plug in the power to the cable modem.
  2. After about a minute, plug back in the power to the router, if you have one.
  3. After about a minute, turn on the computer.

If you still can’t get online, now’s the time to see if there is an outage.

How to See if Your ISP is the Problem

Wireless Networks routers setup and repair 1

If you have a smartphone, the best way is social media.  See if other people are reporting a problem on Facebook or Twitter.  To use your phone or tablet, you might have to turn off wi-fi.  Another great spot to check is the website DownDetector.  Downdetector has an iPhone app too.  They aggregate reports of other people complaining about outages.

Ultimately, you’ll probably need to call your ISP if you’re still early in the outage.  It could be just in your neighborhood.  The longer the hold times, the more likely it isn’t your computer.  I’d wait at least half an hour before calling your ISP.  Try the power cycle dance (above) one more time.  If it doesn’t work, then call them.

It’s Them:  Now What?

Mooch off the Neighbors?

Can I borrow a cup of wi-fi?  If you can see your neighbor’s router, you might ask to use it for a little while.  Ask them for the password, but don’t be shocked if they don’t give it to you.  While I like my neighbors, I don’t want them on my network.  They could see some personal and private stuff.  Anyone who has a key to my house though would be welcome to use my wi-fi. None of my neighbors have a key.

If your neighbor has wi-fi without a password (or if it’s a business), you might use that in a pinch.  If you use unsecured wi-fi, other people on the network could see what you’re doing, so be careful.

Tether With Your Phone aka Hotspot Mode

Most Android and iOS devices let you share the cellular connection with computers. The exact instructions depend on the version of the phone you have.  Usually you just turn on the Personal Hotspot and create a network name and password.  Then connect your computer to that network.

That configuration could kill your data plan, so only use it for stuff you absolutely need. For example, you might need to email an important document from your desktop.

If you have a smartphone, most of the critical stuff can be done on that using your cellular connection. Avoid data intensive stuff like streaming music or videos.

Wait it Out

Photo by Lima Pix – http://flic.kr/p/oYfzwS

The human race survived for thousands of years without internet and we’ll survive this outage.  It sounds dismissive, but it’s important to put this into perspective.  If it’s an ISP outage, you aren’t alone.  Eventually,  they’ll solve it.  They want you to get back online as soon as possible.  Getting upset won’t resolve it.  Front line customer service reps can’t fix it and are probably having a terrible day.


Photo by katerha – http://flic.kr/p/sE2qVL

Unlikely.  At best, your ISP will give you a prorated refund.  If you contact them and wait on hold, they can give you a credit equal to the time you lost.  That calculates to 1/30th of your bill.  If you’re bill is $100, you can coax them into a refund of about $3.00 or maybe they’ll round up to $5.00.  That doesn’t translate into much return on investment for your time.

Special Consideration: Businesses

pointofsale 1

At DoctorDave Computer Repair we have lots of business clients that run credit cards.  You don’t want to tell your customers you can’t take credit cards.  Similarly, you don’t want to take the risk of keeping card numbers until you get online.  That will get you in trouble with your merchant processing and puts your customers at risk.

Most Point of Sale (POS) systems let you capture transactions offline.  That’s great for an outage of a few minutes.  The problem with offline transactions is you can’t verify if the funds are there to pay for the item.  If it’s an overdrawn debit card or a credit card over the limit (or stolen), you’re on the hook.

Tethering your smartphone to an entire point of sale system is tricky.  I recommend using Square in these instances.  We use Square for our credit card processing.  What’s nice about Square is there isn’t a monthly fee for the service, you pay only for what you use.  You’ll probably pay more for a transaction compared to your regular merchant services account, but at least you won’t be turning away customers or taking big risks.

Some of our clients have portable hotspots or a “mi-fi” to supplement their existing ISP.  If they’re having an outage at their POS, they can switch to this service. There’ a monthly fee for these devices, but that extra $15 or so a month might be worth it.

Should You Switch ISPs?

Photo by JeepersMedia – http://flic.kr/p/osAZTR

Probably not.  All ISPs have outages.  It does seem like Lawrence’s WOW service has more outages than others.  Here at DoctorDave Computer Repair, we get about the same number or reports of AT&T problems and WOW problems.

With AT&T, you usually have to get the equipment from them, so about 50% of the time it’s a failed modem.  With WOW, you can buy one locally and replace the cable modem.  With AT&T, you can’t always do that.

We love Wicked and have it at our office in Lawrence.  They’re focused on business service and aren’t expanding further into residential markets.

What about Google Fiber in Lawrence?

Photo by mjmonty – http://flic.kr/p/6wumx7

Unlikely.  I was invited by the city to discuss the quality of internet here in Lawrence and our options.  I also spoke at city commission meetings regarding the issues. I’m a computer repair person, not a politician.  However I understand the major stumbling block is how much the city will charge an ISP to use city equipment to run the lines. It’s too expensive for an ISP to tear up people’s yards (and who wants that?), so they want to use pipes the city has.

So What’s the Answer?

Photo by West Midlands Police – http://flic.kr/p/cGnABd

Again, I’m not a politician, but I think we need to get the government involved. I’d love the city to take on the role of an ISP or work on a public/private partnership.  ISPs don’t have a financial incentive to provide better service.  In cities with Google Fiber, the ISPs step up their game and provide faster service.

If our city doesn’t take on that role, then the FCC might have to set minimum quality standards. The FCC could set penalties for outages. Right now, the city has that power but has declined to exercise the franchise authority powers.

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