The majority of users access the internet using wireless devices, like phones or laptops. These devices connect to the internet using Wi-Fi, wireless signals that broadcast throughout your house.
But if you’ve been using the internet for a while – or you have a desktop computer that you don’t use Wi-Fi for – you’ll probably be using an Ethernet cable instead. Ethernet cables are wires that physically connect your computer to a router or modem.
Ethernet cables can seem clunky or restricting, but they can substantially improve the speed and stability of your internet.
Here’s what you need to know about Ethernet cables, how they work, and what makes them a handy alternative to Wi-Fi.
An Ethernet cable ‘hardwires’ your computer to an internet connection
An Ethernet cable, sometimes referred to as a network cable, is a cord that runs from a router, modem, or network switch to your computer, giving your device access to the local area network (LAN) – in other words, giving it internet access.
The benefit of hardwiring your internet connection is that it’s faster and more consistent. Without walls or other objects blocking your Wi-Fi signals, you don’t have to worry about sudden drops in internet speed.
Gaming with an Ethernet cable means less lag and faster loading times for multiplayer games. And every major game console can connect with an Ethernet port – although to connect a Nintendo Switch, you’ll need an adapter.
Just be careful not to unplug your cable while you’re using it, as doing so will disconnect you from the internet instantly. Luckily, Ethernet cables are made to snap snugly into place, so it’s hard to pull them out accidentally.
Ethernet cables come in a range of lengths and colors, but both sides of the cord are the same, regardless of the brand of cable or device you’re hardwiring.
Ethernet accessories can help you connect any device
Although newer, slender models of laptops don’t tend to have Ethernet ports, you can still utilize an Ethernet cable with a USB or USB-C adapter.
Another common accessory to pair with an Ethernet cable is a network switch. This add-on lets you convert an Ethernet connection into multiple ones, allowing you to, for instance, hardwire both your Xbox and Chromecast to the internet at the same time.
The advent of Wi-Fi was a great thing. It has granted easier internet access in harder-to-reach areas, made connecting new devices a breeze – and not to mention, reduced the amount of cables on our floors.
However, if you’re looking for the fastest and most consistent connection possible, you should still stick with an Ethernet cable. It’s less convenient, but boasts all sorts of advantages.
Ethernet is almost always faster than Wi-Fi
If you want a fast connection, you should consider connecting as many of your devices as possible to Ethernet. This is because Ethernet is nearly always faster than a Wi-Fi connection from the same router.
It’s true that radio waves are incredibly fast. But an Ethernet cable lets your devices send and receive data almost instantaneously. This is especially true if you have a fiber-optic connection.
This also means that it doesn’t matter how close or far you are from your router. As long as your Ethernet cable reaches, you’ll see little to no loss in speed.
You can compare Wi-Fi and Ethernet speeds by running a quick speed test using both connections. You’ll almost certainly find the Ethernet connection to be faster.
Our own quick test showed an Ethernet download speed almost double that of Wi-Fi.
Ethernet is more stable than a Wi-Fi signal
To use an analogy, an Ethernet cable is to Wi-Fi what a landline is to a cell phone. Rather than transmitting the signal wirelessly, an Ethernet cable carries your data via a cable electronically.
In short, this means that the data is less likely to get lost or degrade along the way. You also don’t have to worry about the signal being blocked or slowed down by nearby electronics or barriers.
Unless your Ethernet cable physically breaks, there’s not much that can disrupt it, short of a power outage.
Ethernet connections are likely more secure than Wi-Fi
Although a clever Wi-Fi network name like “FBI Surveillance Van” might dissuade some neighbors from trying to hack your network, you’re still more secure with an Ethernet connection.
Any Wi-Fi password can be hacked with enough effort, and since Wi-Fi signals pass through the open air, they can be intercepted. But to gain access to an Ethernet connection, you need to have the cable and the router. There’s no way to hack into Ethernet without a physical connection.
A Domain Name System (DNS) server is a fundamental part of the backbone of the internet – without it, it would be impossible to use a web browser to find websites.
You can think of the DNS server as a phone book. When you ask your computer to load a website, the DNS server matches the website’s name with the right IP address. This lets your computer find and load it properly.
How does a DNS server work?
When you enter a URL, what you’re really doing is asking your computer to find and connect to another IP address. To do this, it uses a set of related servers, all of which form the DNS server:
The DNS recursive resolver
The root nameservers
The TLD nameservers
The authoritative nameservers
Here’s how it works.
All this happens in a matter of seconds – if your internet is very fast, or you’ve visited the website recently (see below for more information), it can happen in milliseconds.
Caching can avoid calling the DNS server
If you’re visiting a new website, your browser will go through the entire process outlined above. But if it did this for every single website, things could get slow – that’s why websites you’ve visited recently are stored in your web browser’s cache.
When you try to load a website, the DNS server will first check your cache to see if the IP address is already saved there. If it is, it’ll retrieve the IP address directly from the cache, which saves time.
Each entry in the cache has a time limit associated with it, referred to as the TTL (time-to-live). The TTL for any IP address is generally about 48 hours, and once that passes, the IP address will disappear from your cache. This means that the DNS server will have to go through the whole recursive search process again.
Changing your DNS server
As a general rule, your web browser uses a standard, public DNS server, usually configured and maintained by your internet service provider.
Some advanced users manually change their DNS server, though. This can boost your internet speed and protect your privacy.
Changing your DNS can be done via your computer’s “Network” menu, in the Settings app. If you’re looking for a new DNS, you can try the Google Public DNS or any number of other custom DNS servers.
The Department of Justice has dropped its legal challenge to California’s net-neutrality rules, the agency said in a court filing on Monday.
The move clears a major hurdle that had prevented the state’s rules from going into effect, and represents a significant departure from the Trump administration’s approach to internet policy.
After the Trump-led Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to repeal widely popular Obama-era net-neutrality protections at the federal level, California lawmakers passed a law the following year that aimed to restore some of those protections within its own borders.
The Biden administration’s decision to abandon the fight against net neutrality, which comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s nomination of acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, signals it may take a tougher approach to companies that provide Americans with internet access.
“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit,” Rosenworcel said in a press release.
“When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net-neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land,” she said.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans – including both Republicans and Democrats – support net neutrality, a policy that prevents internet providers like AT&T and Comcast from “throttling” customers’ internet speeds or forcing certain websites to pay more for “fast lanes.”
Despite industry arguments that deregulation promotes innovation and cost savings that benefit consumers, the US recently fell out of the top 10 countries for internet speeds globally, according to a report from DecisionData.org, and Americans still pay far more for that service.
Comcast will roll out 29 of its WiFi-connected “Lift Zones” in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Virginia over the next several weeks, the company announced Monday.
The aim of the project is to provide free internet access to low-income families so they can more easily attend virtual schooling, look for jobs, access online resources, and participate in the digital economy, Comcast said.
The internet provider plans to set up 15 of the the internet-connected zones in Baltimore, 13 in Washington, DC, and one in Virginia. Comcast Lift Zones will provide free WiFi at participating nonprofit organizations, including community centers, churches, and Boys and Girls Clubs.
“We are proud to partner with community organizations across the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas and equip them with fast WiFi service to provide kids with safe and reliable connectivity to learn, keep up with school and expand their educational opportunities,” Misty Allen, Vice President of Government Affairs for Comcast’s Beltway Region, said in a statement.
“We believe that these Lift Zones will provide another choice and make it convenient for students and families to connect at a trusted local nonprofit location.”
A 2020 study from Common Sense, an education-focused nonprofit, found that between 15 million and 16 million US students lack adequate internet access for remote learning, and 9 million of those students also lack the necessary devices.
In New York City, a class-action lawsuit seeking to make the city provide WiFi in homeless shelters is moving to a trial. In a ruling earlier this month moving the suit to an expedited discovery, US District Judge Alison Nathan wrote: “Without internet connectivity, homeless students are deprived of the means to attend classes.” She added, “And because homeless children who lack internet access and reside in New York City shelters cannot attend school for as long as that deprivation exists, the City bears a duty, under the statute, to furnish them with the means necessary for them to attend school.”
Comcast has said it plans to launch more than 1,000 Lift Zones in coming years to help address this disparity in internet access. The company also runs an “Internet Essentials Partnership Program” which has partnered with cities, school districts, and community organizations to equip more than 4 million students with internet access at home.
Slaughter began her term at the FTC in May 2018, after being nominated by President Donald Trump. Rosenworcel was first nominated to serve on the FCC by President Barack Obama in 2012, and is the longest-serving Democratic commissioner at the agency.
The appointments signal that Biden’s administration will likely continue to get tougher on regulating tech and telecom companies, building on the Trump administration’s mix of increasing antitrust enforcement, attempts to roll back Section 230’s legal protections for internet companies, and laissez-faire approach to telecom regulations.
Slaughter has supported the FTC’s increasingly hard line on antitrust issues as well as privacy, but she has also argued the agency should have taken action earlier and issued harsher penalties more likely to deter companies from future law-breaking, including holding executives personally liable for their companies’ privacy violations.
Slaugher has also said that the FTC’s enforcement efforts should be “anti-racist” through ensuring markets aren’t racially discriminatory and protecting consumers from algorithmic bias.
Rosenworcel’s appointment to the FCC, however, marks an even greater departure from her predecessor, the outgoing Chairman Ajit Pai.
Rosenworcel has pushed for the FCC to use its authority and resources to expand internet access, particularly to students whose lack of home internet has prevented them from keeping up in school while participating in remote learning during the pandemic – the so-called “homework gap.” She has also voiced support for net neutrality in the past, and will likely face pressure to reinstate the policy.
Slaughter and Rosenworcel will likely play a key role in any efforts to modify Section 230, which some Democrats say lets tech companies off the hook for not doing enough to disincentivize hate speech, harassment, and violence on their platforms.
The appointments aren’t final, as Biden will still need to decide whether to nominate Slaughter and Rosenworcel as permanent chairs. They will also likely face delays implementing their more ambitious plans until Biden nominates additional commissioners to break the current 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans at both agencies.
Both the FTC and FCC are led by as many as five commissioners, appointed by the president, and neither is allowed to have more than three members of one party. Biden’s appointments will need to be confirmed by the Senate, a likely prospect as Vice President Kamala Harris could break any tie between the evenly divided upper chamber.
The plan allocates about $3 billion for monthly rebates on internet bills, providing up to $50 per month for low-income families. Households on Indian reservations can qualify for up to $75 a month. The bill will also focus on longer term efforts to support internet access, such as allocating funding to determine which regions lack access to high speed internet and improving infrastructure, the Post reported.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified concerns about the digital divide between Americans with broadband access and those without. Americans are increasingly reliant on the Internet for access to basic needs, as doctors appointments become tele-visits, work goes remote, and students of all ages attend classes via video platforms. But the economic downturn associated with COVID-19 has made paying internet bills harder than ever.
Some 28% of broadband users said that they are worried about being able to pay their internet bills, and 30% of smartphone users said they were concerned about being able to pay their cell phone bills, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in April. And the problem is even more intense for lower income Americans: more than half said they were worried about being able to pay cellular and broadband bills.
It can be hard to imagine or remember the days before Wi-Fi, when you had to run Ethernet cables throughout the house to connect computers to the internet and carry files around on CDs and portable hard drives (affectionately known as “sneakernet”).
These days, we take Wi-Fi for granted – right up until it stops working and brings our modern connected household to a complete stop.
How to fix Wi-Fi problems
Here are 10 ways to troubleshoot and solve common Wi-Fi problems.
Basic check: Is the Wi-Fi router running?
It’s not out of the question for the plug to have been accidentally pulled or the cat to have stepped on the power button. Make sure the Wi-Fi router’s lights are on.
Is the issue related to one device or all devices?
Fixing computer problems like Wi-Fi connection issues often comes down to the process of elimination. That’s why technical support technicians often start by asking silly and obvious questions like “is the computer plugged in?” Once you know the Wi-Fi is running, check to see if the problem happens on just one device or on all of them. If you can’t connect on your laptop, for example, check your phone to see if you can see Wi-Fi signal strength bars.
Send a ping to Google
One other easy thing you can check for: is the connection problem related to your Wi-Fi network or to your internet service provider’s internet signal? Your Wi-Fi network might be fine, for example, but the ISP’s internet may be out. To find out, run a ping test using a computer.
1. On your PC, click the Start button search box and type “CMD,” then press Enter.
2. In the Command Prompt window, type “ping Google.com.”
3. Wait for the result.
If you see an error message, you might not have a working internet connection; continue troubleshooting in the next section. If you see a reply from Google, then you have a working internet connection and the problem lies elsewhere.
You can also log into your account for your internet service provider to check if there’s an outage in your area. With many providers, a banner will appear at the top of your account page notifying you of an outage, or you can search for an outage map on the site.
Troubleshooting no service at all
This is unfortunately one of the more common problems people run into – the internet simply doesn’t work at all. If none of the devices or computers on your Wi-Fi network can connect, reset both the internet router and Wi-Fi (this might be one device or two different ones). Unplug them, wait two minutes, and plug them back in. If your Wi-Fi doesn’t start working again, the problem might be with your internet service provider – call customer service and let them troubleshoot.
Resolving slow or spotty internet in certain rooms
If your Wi-Fi drops out in certain parts of the house on a regular basis, the problem is almost certainly a “dead zone” caused by a router that can’t reach everywhere. If possible, move the router to a more central location in the house. Alternatively, you can add a Wi-Fi extender to increase the range of your router.
Troubleshooting slow or spotty internet at certain times of day
If your connection problem isn’t related to where you are in the house but is an intermittent problem at certain times of the day, the issue is likely related to a lack of bandwidth; too many devices are connected to the Wi-Fi network and using too much data. If three people are streaming Netflix on different devices at the same time, for example, there’s your culprit. If possible, connect devices with an Ethernet cable so they aren’t using Wi-Fi, or better yet, take one or more bandwidth hogs offline entirely.
Is your connection slow because of the Wi-Fi network or the ISP?
If you have a connection that’s noticeably slow, it can also be helpful to figure out if your poor performance is being caused by a slow internet connection provided by your ISP or if the Wi-Fi network in your home is not working properly. You can do this by running an internet speed test. Run the test at speedtest.net in any browser (on a computer or mobile device). If the internet speed seems normal (at least 10Mbps, for example) the issue is related to your Wi-Fi network, not the internet. Read our detailed guide on how to check the strength of your Wi-Fi for more information.
How to resolve issues with your router
It can be challenging to know exactly what is causing a problem with your Wi-Fi connection, and the router itself has some settings and configurations that might be “breaking” your Wi-Fi network. If possible, check on and update your router’s firmware. Most modern routers work with a simple mobile app you can use to check on the firmware and install any available updates. This can resolve issues with your connection reliability and speed. In addition, you can probably use the app to change the channels your router is using to broadcast on its various bands. If your connection is slow or intermittent, changing the channels might significantly improve your Wi-Fi service. For more information, read our article on how to boost your internet connection.
What to do if one device has trouble connecting
Make sure the device’s software is up to date. And if your router is a dual-band or tri-band device, try connecting to one of the other Wi-Fi bands. There are any number of reasons why a laptop might connect more easily to one of the 5GHz radios rather than the other, for example.
What to do if your game console can’t connect to Wi-Fi
Occasionally, consoles like the Xbox and PS4 can run into trouble connecting to Wi-Fi. Consoles can be affected by the same kind of glitches that affect PCs and mobile devices, but they generally only need to go to one internet location, so troubleshooting can be easier. Open a site like Downdetector in a web browser on your computer or a mobile device and use it to see if the Playstation Network or Xbox Live is down. If so, just wait for the site to come back up. Otherwise, reboot both the router and the console and move them closer together, if possible.