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Computer and Internet equipment is engineered to be left on, but turning it off should have little to no effect on your performance and internet connection.

My internet cable and phone connection recently failed. This is the first time in years that this has happened. I contacted tech with my ISP who, after the usual rebooting and disconnecting routine, were unable to restore the connection but said it would be fixed by the next morning.

This, in fact, proved to be the case. However, the technician said that I should leave my Motorola cable modem running 24/7 and implied that my failing to do so had caused the problem.

I've never had this suggested before. It's my practice to switch off all computers and peripherals at night or when absent from the house as a precaution. Indeed, the modem has a standby function. There is nothing in the paperwork anywhere from Motorola or the ISP to suggest that this is required or desirable.

So really my question is: was this a PR exercise to cover up the failure at the ISP's server for the telephone has no connection with modem?

In this excerpt from Answercast #5, I discuss initial connection devices, such as modems and routers.

This type of equipment is designed to be left on. They are also designed to withstand numerous power scenarios (such as power outages) and being turned off and on.

Is it a coverup?

I won't go so far as to say that it was a PR exercise to cover up. I'm not going to ascribe that level of cover up to your ISP. I honestly don't know.

That being said, I don't know of any reason that it should be required that you would leave your modem on 24/7, or that failing to do so would cause these other kind of problems that you are experiencing. I believe it's highly unlikely that the two are related.

That's not to say it's impossible. I could certainly dream up some scenarios where a poorly designed system could in fact fail because it's not turned on. But I just consider that to be extremely, highly unlikely.

The default is on

Now, I will say this: I do believe that most of these initial connection devices are meant to stay on. By initial connection, I mean the first device that the external wire connects to in your home. For instance, the cable goes directly to your cable modem: your DSL connection goes directly to a DSL modem. Those initial frontline devices, I believe, are actually designed to (more often than not) be left on 24/7.

In fact, in my house, that's the way that they are because I leave the entire system on 24/7. I do believe that they just expect that's the way that they will be left. If there are design decisions being made when those devices are being crafted in the first place, they'll probably err on the side of that being the most common scenario.

"Off" is going to happen

Now, that's not to say that those devices should not be able to handle the power going off. They should absolutely be able to handle you turning it off. They should absolutely be able to handle scenarios that are much worse: like the power suddenly disappearing during a power outage or power problems during other kinds of power-related failures. I really don't think there's a scenario here that realistically points the finger at you for turning this thing off all of the time.

My point is simply that it might their first line of defense to say this, only because it's what they're used to. It's what they expect; it's what they know works most commonly and most often.

I don't want to get into the debate of whether or not turning it off actually saves power, or whether or not turning it off and turning it on again 365 times a year is actually causing additional wear and tear on the device. Those are almost unanswerable questions and you will get lots of strong opinion on both sides of that issue.

Regardless of which approach that you take, I really don't see anything wrong or anything that would cause the kind of problem that you experienced simply by turning your modem off at night.

Next - Why do I end up in the wrong place when I click on a link?

Article C5153 - April 2, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
Dave Reitz
April 3, 2012 9:23 AM

This was very informative, as always. However, I don't think that you actually answered the original question - does turning off your modem (or whatever) actually "break" the internet connection - so that no physical connection exists between the internet and the computer. I myself have a home network, and our router occasionally locks up - when that happens, we unplug the router for a moment, and that DOES break the internet connection for our computers here.

I do believe he was asking about physically or electrically breaking something that then had to be repaired. Yes, it does "break" the connection in the sense that it disconnect you, but it does no harm to the hardware or other settings.
Leo
03-Apr-2012
Reid
April 3, 2012 9:32 AM

@Dave: Sure, powering down your router definitely "breaks" your Internet connection. The router *is* your Internet connection. It interfaces with your ISP, then issues internal IP addresses to any PC you have connected to it, whether wired or wireless. The only time I ever turn of my router is if there are problems. Sometimes I have to reboot my PC in order for it to reconnect properly.

MoreOff
April 3, 2012 5:41 PM

If I Recall Correctly, The book that came with my DSL Modem says to leave the DSL Modem turned on after a New Installation so the DSL Modem will be able to 'talk' with the telephone companies equipment so the connection can be 'Optimized' I think the book says just to leave it on over night and after that initial period the DSL Modem can be turned off and on as the person wishes.

Mike
April 3, 2012 6:35 PM

I've something a little different. I'm told that it's common maintenance to turn off the modem and wireless router at least once a month to allow it to reset and re-establish its connections. Empirically, I've found it to resolve connection problems that occasionally surface on other computers on my network. Certainly it's never "broken" my connection to the internet after it's powered back up.

Snert
April 3, 2012 7:53 PM

Whenever I have a problem with my internet connection the first thing the ISP people tell me to do is power-down my modem, wait 1 minute then power it back up. 90% of the time this power-down lets it reset itself and the problem is fixed. Otherewise, the only time it goes off if there's a power failure.

Don Cameron
April 3, 2012 9:39 PM

Leo , thank you for your response to my query and also those of your readers . On balance I think the problem was at my ISP server or cable .
Apart from the cable itself the telephone has no interaction with the modem , but it was dead .
I have subsequently carried out a number of speed checks on my connection using different sources all point to the connection speed being degraded.
Perhaps I am old fashioned but I have always understood that there is a fire hazard with computers and other electrical equipment left on when the home is unoccupied .

Lee
April 4, 2012 7:01 AM

I unplug my cable modem and router whenever I'm not using them because I live in an area with high risk of lightening strikes. My phone has been hit 5 times in 10 years. I don't think these devices were made to withstand that kind of electrical problem. :)
Anyway, I've not had any connection problems due to unplugging the modem.

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