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Internet really the problem?

Can everybody hear me? Your Zoom is hiccuping. The WiFi is being weird.

You’re breaking up, America. Bad Internet connections are our No. 1 tech problem — as frustrating as robocalls, but tied directly to our ability to do our jobs, learn and be entertained from home in the coronavirus era.

Here’s some advice you won’t hear from many gadget guys: Don’t buy anything. At least not yet. Yes, some new gear or a different service plan might help. But first, let’s do some tests to get to the root of your problem. A fix could be as simple as moving the location of equipment you never really think about. We might even save you money.

It’s not always very easy to call a technician over to look at your network. So I wrote this guide to the most common problems and cross-checked my solutions with Internet service providers, or ISPs, including Comcast, Verizon and Sonic — and with WiFi hardware makers Netgear, Google and Eero. My request to all of them: Don’t try to sell us stuff, just help us fix what we’ve got.

Think of this guide as CSI: WiFi. Network problems are a mystery you solve through a process of elimination. I’m going to suggest a few tests, possible fixes and tips. If one doesn’t help you, then move on to the next.

Step 1: Is your Internet really the problem?

Before you spend the time digging your network equipment out of some dark, dusty corner, let’s look closer at the laptop, tablet or phone you’re using. It might actually be the problem.

Do certain devices in your house have more trouble going online than others? That’s a sign.

It’s possible your device just wasn’t built for working from home in 2020. Video chat applications like Zoom are actually pretty intense, and your older device — even if you paid an arm and a leg for it six years ago — might not have the memory or horsepower to keep up.

Tip : Restart your computer. Sometimes we all just need a refresh. Also, close any apps you don’t need to have running, especially while you video chat.

Tip : Dedicate a device for video. With a seven-year-old Apple MacBook, I couldn’t Zoom and work at the same time. So I turned an old iPad Mini into a dedicated video conference machine that sits right next to it. No more stutters.

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