How to handle a sudden broadband outage

Sudden broadband outages are an unfortunate fact of life – here’s how to cope if your internet goes off

Friday, 5 April, 2024

Our reliance on the internet is reflected in the emotions which are triggered if it’s suddenly unavailable.

The term ‘nomophobia’ has been coined to describe the fear (irrational or otherwise) of finding oneself without a smartphone to hand.

Equally, people’s first reaction to a sudden broadband outage is often blind panic. How will I work? What will the kids watch at the dinner table? When will it be back on?

Sudden broadband outages are unlikely to cause an existential threat, or ultimately become anything more than a minor inconvenience.

If your ISP lets you down, here’s how to manage the situation until connectivity is restored.

Don’t panic!

It’s often claimed that people wouldn’t tell you not to panic without a good reason to panic.

However, broadband can go down for a variety of reasons, some of which may only be momentary.

Routers need a couple of minutes to reboot if they’ve experienced a brief power cut or paused to install essential firmware.

These complex electronic devices do a great deal of unappreciated heavy lifting, and they occasionally need to be restarted.

You can tell what a router is doing from the lights on its front or side, as explained in our recent guide to what broadband lights mean.

If the router isn’t to blame, the issue could relate to a loose connection. Check Ethernet cables and plugs haven’t been pulled out (even partially).

If connections are all secure, confirm the issue is house-wide rather than device-specific by trying to use a smartphone, tablet, smart speaker or other web-enabled hardware.

Once a second (or even third) device has failed to get online, you’re officially dealing with an internet outage.

Remember not to panic!

The bigger picture

If the issue lies outside your home, use a 4G or 5G smartphone to visit the Down Detector website and check whether other people have reported issues with your ISP.

You could also visit your ISP’s homepage and/or social media accounts, since they might publish live updates about known issues across their networks.

Network issues could be caused by malware, technical errors, engineering works, storms or bizarre reasons such as rodents chewing through cables.

ISPs monitor network activity in real time, so network issues outside your home don’t need to be flagged up.

Indeed, ISP contact centres may be overwhelmed with well-meaning individuals telling them what they already know, so try to refrain from getting in touch.

With broadband outages costing an estimated £1.28 billion each year, and one-star reviews being mentally composed in every moment customers are offline, ISPs will be doing their best to restore connectivity.

Staying connected

Remember that you’re not completely offline if your home broadband fails.

SMS messages and phone calls will continue as normal through your phone, while 4G or 5G connectivity could be useful.

A mobile broadband dongle or MiFi hub can keep larger devices such as desktop PCs online – they’re worth owning as emergency connectivity tools.

You could visit a coffee shop, library or other building with free public WiFi, though these insecure networks may not preserve the confidentiality of any data sent and received.

Try working offline – drafting emails to send later or using locally stored OneDrive files. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself and the family without an internet connection.

Above all, maintain a sense of perspective. Any sudden broadband outage will be a footnote in history as soon as connectivity is restored.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!