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Permanently Fixing Repeating
DSL Modem Problems

By Ted Twietmeyer

It will go something like this. You'll be on the web looking at webpages. Getting email, or doing stock or future trading. Murphy's Law is always right there - Right at a critical point, your web browser will stop operating. You may get a white screen, a hourglass icon or a spinning circle telling you your computer is waiting for the network. Power cycling your modem may fix it for a time. But rest assured the problem will return soon enough.

You call your internet provider (probably your telephone company) and they usually give you a new modem. I'm here to tell you, that a new modem almost certainly will not fix your problem. You are now on the DSL roller coaster ride. Hopefully this article will help you shortcut some of those hills and bends to reliable service again, by giving you a better understanding of how this technology works. Without having to be a engineer to understand it.


When you turn on your DSL modem, it begins a very complex sequence of handshaking with the phone company to establish the fastest connection possible. Usually this will establish a connection to the closest switching system down the road from your home. That system is frequently a large pedestal cabinet sitting by the side of the road somewhere nearby, or it may be a mile or more away. After a minute or two of handshaking, more LEDs on your modem will light up. First the Ethernet or Wi-Fi LED lights up to show how you are connected to the DSL modem. Then the DSL LED lights up, then finally the internet LED. All DSL modems get hot simply because it must drive a mile of cable or longer at several megahertz data rates.

Believe it or not, the process of starting at the highest bit rate and working downward until it works reliably is how fax machines work, too. It's a decades old process still in use.

But Internet and DSL LEDs can be liars. The reason for this is that the ENTIRE DSL COMMUNICATION SYSTEM depends on one critical factor: Phone line quality must remain STABLE indefinitely. If it suddenly becomes noisy, it will cause a total loss of communication with the switching system.

Weather issues can create instability. Often people with DSL brag how their satellite internet friends suffer from bad weather, but DSL using phone lines do not. This is not true when a phone cables out on telephone poles degrade over time. Moisture is the bitter enemy of all telephone cables. Ever notice big gas bottles chained to telephone poles? Phone companies use inert gases like nitrogen or argon in a [feeble] attempt to force moisture and water out of telephone cables to extend their service life. With 200 to 400 copper wires in each cable, the price/foot for copper replacement cables is extremely high. Many of these cables are pressurized by compressors at local phone company offices to keep moisture out, but this many not be enough to keep moisture out of old, leaky cables.

When weather gets bad enough it can drive moisture into any telephone cable with insufficient or no internal pressure. A crack in the black cable jacket so small it is invisible to the eye is all it takes to infiltrate a cable. When moisture enters the cable that affects the pair of wires for your phone and internet service, it can create big problems. Your internet connection stops working and you must power cycle your DSL modem off and back on to fix it. You may have to do that several times, but even then your DSL connection can act up at any time.


HINT: Here's a quick and simply way to check for cable noise. In a quiet room, pick up any phone in your home, and press any digit from 1 to 9 once to break the dial tone. Now listen closely as it should be quiet. If you can hear any crackling or static-like noise, that can be enough to prevent reliable DSL communications. DSL does not tolerate and work properly with crackling and static noise. If noise is present, repeat the test with a different phone in another location in your home to rule out phone problems.

HINT: Before you power-cycle your modem, close any programs on your computer which are waiting for the internet connection to return. Some DSL modems have problems re-initializing if any computer program on your network is constantly hammering away waiting for data.

If you observe DSL problems are related to bad weather, you may have a defective noisy set of wires in a cable between your home and the phone company. (Phone terminology simply calls these two wires a "pair.") Call telephone repair and let them find the problem. They may give you a rough time fixing a problem like this, since they don't like to come out and connect your home to a new pair on the pole and down the road at the local switching system. But stick to your guns and don't take lame excuses like the classic response, "We can't find anything wrong with our equipment." Of course the equipment is probably OK - but not the wiring!


Another thing to remember that phone companies don't want you to know: You can get financial compensation for dealing with the headache of lost service. If you count on your internet to conduct a home-based business, loss of service has already cost you more money than you may realize. Push hard for a large phone bill discount. Like a pawn broker, they will counter you with a lesser offer of compensation. Then tell them "Go talk to the service people. They have a record of the grief I've been through." That can help move the offer closer to your target discount.

Ted Twietmeyer


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