The internet is as precious as your children right now
It's time to check the health of your connection with Ofcom's top tips
To contain the spread of COVID-19, we, the British public, have been in lockdown for a week now. The government has forced this strict measure partly because many of us are too feckless to do so ourselves, gathering in parks, going to festivals and stupidly congregating outside supermarkets, waiting to pillage them for what little toilet roll they have left.
Shamefully, I must confess to also failing the government's advice, as I too went desperately running through a Sainsbury's on that final Sunday of freedom. In my defence, however, I had a good reason: I had broken the internet, and not in a Kim Kardashian way.
Earlier in the day, while vacuuming behind the sofa, somehow managing to rip the wires out of a piece of hardware called an ADSL filter and cut off our internet connection. Straight away, I went rummaging through drawers like a mad man, desperately searching for a spare ADSL filter that I knew we didn't have.
I also phoned BT, where I spent 30 or so minutes listening to hold music and repeated messages about how busy it was with all this coronavirus panic. When I finally got through to order a replacement part, I was told it would arrive in two days – how would I work on Monday and Tuesday?
So, there I was, running through my local Sainsbury's, sprinting to the back of the store where there's an Argos, like a man carrying a stricken child into a hospital for emergency treatment. "Someone help me, my internet is sick," I could have shouted. In the end, it was no problem, I simply brought an £8 replacement and I was back online. But for a brief moment (seemed much longer at the time) I was looking at a future where I wouldn't be able to work, or entertain my kids, or – god forbid – stream the next season of Sunderland Til I Die on Netflix.
This is the broadband tightrope we all walk on now. In these strange days, the internet is as valuable to you now as one of your children – if you don't have kids, it's more important than your car, your dog, your cat or anything else, aside from your health, of course.
So, without being able to leave our homes, maintaining a connection to the outside world is paramount. To help, Ofcom has released a few essential tips to keep you plugged in.
The first is to use your landline or Wi-Fi for making calls more than mobile networks. Now that we can't all go bombarding the shops, it's highly likely we will jam phone lines instead, checking up on Nan and so on (if you haven’t already, call her now). So using your landline will probably be more efficient.
Broadband connections also benefit from a bit of electromagnetic Feng Shui, so keep all other devices away from your router – in fact, keep all stuff away from it. Think of it like your TV, you want to be able to see it from anywhere in the room – although don't actually keep it next to the TV.
Where to put the router is a bit of a balancing act as it does work better when plugged directly into the main phone socket. Using a telephone extension lead can result in lower speeds and the same is true for tangled or coiled cables – also, take note of my sorry tale and make sure they're not wrapped around the leg of a sofa. Microfilters are great here as they split the phone and broadband signal so they don’t interfere with one another.
Other advice includes the more old school method of plugging an Ethernet cable directly into your computer and the obvious recommendation of lowering the demand of your connection, which may or may not be practical, depending on your job.
If you are experiencing a loss of connection or sluggishness, Ofcom has a mobile and broadband checker and it’s worth your time to carry out a test while you're stuck at home. The regulator's last piece of advice is to contact your provider if all else fails, but it’s worth noting that they can't always help. The replacement part I ordered from BT came five working days later – so while I may have been living dangerously, I was justified to go shopping in the end.