Half-baked idea of the day: Internet OK light

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Debugging end-user Internet failures is a big pain for consumers and ISPs alike. Typically when you call up your ISP, the first thing they want you to do is reboot your computer, turn off your firewall, etc. This consumes enormous amounts of end-user and help-desk time. Even if the problem ultimately turns out to be something totally out of the ISP's control (e.g. browser misconfiguration) it still costs the ISP quite a lot of money to determine that (I've heard numbers around $10/call). Worse yet, from the consumer's perspective, it can take hours and several escalations to convince the ISP that the problem is on their end (No, the net's not working. No, the D and B channel lights don't work. In fact, there's no tone at the MPOE, so it's pretty clearly your problem.)

Now, these debugging procedures made some sense in the days of modems, but if you have broadband, you almost certainly have some kind of modem/router/bridge, etc. Put an LED on the front labelled "Internet is working". The device monitors the status of the network in a bunch of ways:

  1. The status of the link (most devices do this already).
  2. The nameserver works (this is often configured in, but the device can determine it from which nameservers the user's computer uses).
  3. The first hop gateway is accessible.
  4. Some assortment of remote hosts (controlled by the device manufacturer) are reachable.
If everything is good, the LED is green. If it's not, the LED is red. If it's green, don't bother calling your ISP, because there's nothing they can do. If it's red, the ISP doesn't need you to reboot the computer, turn off their firewall, etc. because the problem's on their end.

Obviously, this works best if the ISP is purely in the packet carrying business. If they provide integrated service, e.g. E-mail, VoIP, etc., then those services can be broken even if the basic Internet connection is broken. Even in these environments, though, a system like this would speed up debugging, since you could eliminate network problems right away.

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My wireless DSL gateway has one of those. Of course, whether it's green or not, there's basically only one way to troubleshoot: power-cycle the gateway. (Fortunately, it always seems to work.)


I don't know what kind of gateway device you have, but if it's anything like mine, the status light means the link layer is up, but doesn't tell you if it can actually talk to the Internet as a whole.

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