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Keeping your Internet connection alive

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Keeping your Internet connection alive

Bit Player for April 27, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

If you've had problems staying connected to your Internet Service Provider or to an online service, you may be able to fix the problem with some simple steps.

Modems lose their connections for a variety of reasons. Here are some of those reasons, along with what you can do to correct the problems:

  • Poor telephone lines.

Check the telephone wiring inside your home or office. See if anything is pinching the wires. Look at the plugs and make sure the tiny copper wires inside the plug-in connectors are straight. Replace the wiring or plugs if you see a problem.

If the wiring seems OK, ask the telephone company to check the line quality. You will not be charged for this service.

  • Call waiting.

Call waiting is a service that notifies you of an incoming call when you're using the phone. The signal used by call waiting knocks modems off the line.

You must disable call waiting. If your computer uses Windows 95, you can tell Windows to disable call waiting in the Modems section of the Control Panel. To turn off call waiting manually, put an asterisk followed by "70" into the modem setup string in your software. (Your software's help menu should provide guidance on modem setup strings.)

  • Improper modem setup.

If, as is likely, your modem is designed to connect at the highest possible speed, it may lose the connection now and then because of normal telephone-line glitches (ones that phone company can't fix). Look in your modem manual for ways to step down the highest allowed connection rate. (Manufacturers may use various commands.)

What you're after is a speed that keeps the modem from losing the connection. Some phone lines often won't support modem speeds higher than 21.6 kilobits per second (kbps), and others seem limited to 26.4 kbps. You're better off stepping down from 33.6 kbps or 28.8 kbps to a slower rate if that keeps you online.

  • Faulty buffering.

Until Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 came along, adjusting the chip that handles modem operations required a lot of tinkering. Modern versions of this "UART" chip I'll explain what that means another time have a small storage area that buffers everything that's sent and received. Sometimes, you'll get a better connection if you change the size of the buffer storage.

Do that in Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 through the Modems section of the Control Panel. Choose Properties, then Port Settings, then change the sliders.

  • Someone picking up another phone on the same line.

This usually won't knock the modem offline, but it can mess up a download. Ask everyone else in the family to check to see if the computer is online before they pick up an extension phone.

  • You've timed out without realizing it.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and most commercial online services put timers on their end of the line to hang up on callers who haven't done anything for a certain amount of time. There are ways to get around this, but I don't use them and you shouldn't either. If you're not using the connection, you need to let someone else in.

Finally, your end of the connection may not be at fault at all. Your ISP or your commercial online service may be overloaded. AOL is infamous for dropping the line on calls, and MSN is having some of the same trouble now, also. If you get knocked off from this cause, complain loudly and consider switching to another provider.

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