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Articles: The Internet Disappeared!

Seventy percent of your fellow Internet users are on broadband at home. So many users have made the switch that Apple has stopped including 56k modems in G5 towers, and I wouldn't be surprised if the other Apple desktop computers ditch them soon. There are several reasons that broadband is surpassing dialup. Speed is obviously an issue, but another primary feature is also having a constant connection. But, when you suddenly find yourself offline and don't know why, it's annoying.

Lost broadband connections have been the most recurrent problem I have faced in the decade I have been working on computers. The symptom is this: A computer is connected to a cable or DSL broadband modem with an ethernet cable. One day after restarting your computer, or perhaps after moving cables around, or even when you think you haven't done anything different, the computer will no longer connect to the internet. All the lights on the broadband modem look right, but the Mac has a self-assigned IP address and will not connect.

This problem actually is caused by two contradicting ideas. The first is that it should be easy for multiple computers to join a network and the second idea is that you should have to pay more for using multiple computers. Most broadband modems use the DHCP network configuration protocol to communicate with your computer. DHCP stands for "Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol," but you really don't have to know that. The protocol was developed so the computer and the DHCP server set things up for you, and you really don't need to know how or why. DHCP is very useful when you have many computers because a person doesn't need to keep track of what settings belong to what computer; instead, the DHCP server does that. The plug and play features of DHCP make it an essential addition to broadband modems that are user configured. However, the ISP's want to cap the number of computers using each home's connection, so ISPs allow only one DHCP client computer. This, in most cases, is fine because many people have only one computer at home.

However, problems occur even when using one computer at a time on a one client DHCP server. Each time a computer restarts, wakes up, or reconnects to a network it asks for a DHCP server to give it its configuration info. If the broadband modem thinks it has made one DHCP connection already, it will not make any others. Most times the DHCP server sees that it is the same computer trying to connect and tells it to use the same information as last time. When things go wrong, what happens is the computer is not recognized as the same computer. In that case the broadband modem will not give out any information and your computer will be offline.

The fix for this is simple. Broadband modems forget to whom they have handed out DHCP configurations when unplugged. So turn off both your broadband modem and your computer. Wait five minutes and then turn on only the modem. Wait another two minutes and turn on your computer. Everything should work fine after that. This procedure has solved 99% of broadband connection errors I have dealt with. Know too, that full DHCP servers provided in routers will not suffer these problems because they are always on and never disconnect. Buying a broadband router to put between your broadband modem and your computer could simplify your life and keep you online all the time.

So to summarize- if you're at home and you haven't changed any settings and you can't get on the internet like you always have, before you call your provider, just shut everything down for a bit, including the modem, and then restart. Chances are you'll save that 10 minutes of elevator hold music and be happily on your way before they would have even had a chance to help you out.
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