IT Connect
Your connection to information technology at the UW

Internet connectivity for learning, teaching and working remotely

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington to rely on our home internet connectivity to study, teach and work remotely.

This guide steps you through different options and tips for improving connectivity and provides resources on what internet service providers (ISP) are offering during this time to ensure better connectivity.

Home internet connectivity

Home internet connections may be slower than normal due to the number of people working from home, which can cause congestion on ISP networks. The guide below suggests tools to measure the speed of your connection, and provides tips to improve your internet connection’s performance. You may need to contact your internet provider to resolve some connectivity problems.

Evaluate and improve performance

Measure the speed of your home internet connection.

Several websites provide speed tests to measure your internet connection speed. Some are provided by independent companies such as Netflix, and some are provided directly by ISPs. Use the speed tester provided by your ISP if one is available. Try searching Google for your provider’s name and “speed test”.

  • If you are using Husky OnNet or another VPN, disconnect from the VPN before running a speed test.
  • If you are measuring from a Wi-Fi connected laptop or phone, move physically close to your Wi-Fi router, at least in the same room, for the best possible wireless connection.
  • Repeat the test several times during the day and evening to get a better understanding of your average internet connection speed.
Xfinity http://speedtest.xfinity.com
CenturyLink https://speedtest.centurylink.com/
Frontier http://speedtest.frontier.com/
Netflix http://www.fast.com
Speed Tester https://www.speedtest.net/

Weak Wi-Fi signal or poor broadband connections — less than 15 Mb/s download speeds, 5 Mb/s upload speed, or long delays in connection time — can indicate problems with your connection or a need to upgrade your plan. Determine what speeds should be available in your plan. Depending on your provider, you may need to look at a bill, log into your provider’s website, or ask your provider directly.

Improve the performance of your internet connection 

Home internet connections may experience performance degradation under circumstances that place extra load on the connection. Try the following ways of improving your internet connection speed.

  1. Wi-Fi connection speed can decrease dramatically with distance from the Wi-Fi router, and with the amount of walls or furniture between you and your router. Move physically closer to your Wi-Fi router and see if performance improves.
  2. Try to off-load some data from your internet connection to speed up your internet. For example, you can turn off video in a Zoom call to save bandwidth, leaving more capacity for audio, or use an alternative connection like your cell phone for some tasks.
  3. Husky OnNet provides users with a secure connection to the UW network from remote locations, such as from a home internet connection. The Husky OnNet service supports a number of use cases, such as remote access to campus desktops, file shares, servers, and subscription-based services accessible only to users from the UW network.
    • Husky OnNet supports two connectivity modes. Using the right connectivity mode for your current needs can help improve internet performance:
      1.  “UW Campus Network Traffic Only” directs only traffic destined for UW over Husky OnNet. Traffic for cloud-based applications – such as Zoom, Canvas, Panopto, and Office365 – will directly go from your home network to the cloud resource. Use this mode if you are connecting from home or from a trusted internet connection.
      2. All Internet Traffic” directs all traffic, regardless of destination, to Husky OnNet. Using this mode is sometimes needed to access non-UW resources that expect a UW network connection, and also adds a layer of security when connecting from public hotspots.  Use this mode only when necessary, and note that your connection might be slowed down if using this mode for high bandwidth services such as streaming video or audio, as that traffic now passes through the UW before reaching your local computer.

If the tips above don’t improve the speed of your home internet connection, you can try more tips for increasing the speed of your home internet connection.

If you are still dissatisfied with the speed of your internet, call your internet provider and find out how they can increase the speed.

Find providers in your area

For a comprehensive list of internet providers available in your area, visit http://highspeedinternet.com. Enter your zip code and you’ll see a list of all ISPs that offer internet in the area. If available to you, “Fiber” or “Gigabit” internet access options such as CenturyLink Fiber Gigabit, Xfinity Gigabit, or Frontier FiOS will typically provide the fastest internet connection speeds.

Wireless internet connectivity

Your smartphone and cellular data

  • Modern smartphones provide internet access from their cellular network. While mobile data connections may not be as fast as a home internet connection, they offer an alternative means to access the internet. For example, if your home internet connection is down, you could join a Zoom meeting from your smartphone using its mobile data. Cell phones can be purchased for departments, and discounts are available on cell phone plans for personal use. Learn more about cell phones at the UW.
  • Use your smartphone as a mobile data hotspot. Some cell phone plans and plan add-ons allow you to use your smartphone to create a Wi-Fi internet connection that can be used by other Wi-Fi enabled computers and devices. This is also known as tethering or Wi-Fi sharing. When you tether your laptop, PC or tablet to your mobile phone, the data cap may be different than when natively using an app on your cell phone. For example, you may have an unlimited data plan for your phone, but a 15GB cap for using your cell phone as a mobile hotspot. Please check the information provided by your cellular vendor.

Access free public Wi-Fi hotspots

Internet Service Providers are allowing free access to Wi-Fi hotspots around the country during this pandemic. You can look up the nearest hotspot to your residence and take advantage of the connection.

Important safety reminder: If you’re connecting to the internet from a public Wi-Fi hot spot, make sure you’re using Husky OnNet or another secured VPN so your data is encrypted.

  • Free access to Comcast Xfinity hotspots: Comcast’s Xfinity Wifi hotspots are be free to anyone – including non-Xfinity subscribers – as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Hotspots are spread throughout Washington state, mainly located in areas like parks or near shopping districts or small businesses, but also in some residential areas. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once near a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name from their computer’s available Wi-Fi connections.
  • Frontier allows you to purchase hourly, daily or monthly passes to Frontier My Wi-Fi, or you can purchase unlimited Wi-Fi access as part of your service plan.

Residential broadband and wireless offers

Internet providers around the country are providing their customers special offers during this pandemic to ensure connectivity. Some examples are below, but offers may change or be extended, so be sure to check with your provider for the most recent information.

Policies and  special offers:

  • Your  cell phone provider may have removed its data cap. Please consult with your cell phone provider for the latest information.
  • Wireless carriers: Many wireless carriers implementing special policies and offers for their customers. Learn how T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are supporting their customers during COVID-19.

Free or discounted internet access for students

In response to COVID-19, some internet service providers are offering free or discounted internet access to students.

  • Charter Spectrum Broadband: Charter is offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. More information is available from Charter.
  • Emergency aid: For students in need, emergency aid may be available. The application for emergency aid is available at https://www.washington.edu/emergencyaid/

Affordable internet access

The City of Seattle maintains a list of affordable broadband internet programs for low-income households in Seattle. Most programs cost around $10/month for those that qualify.

  • Internet Essentials from Comcast offers affordable residential broadband internet access to low-income households. In response to COVID-19, Internet Essentials is also offering two free months of internet access for new customers that qualify for the program and apply by April 30th.
  • Simply Internet by Wave provides unlimited internet access at speeds up to 10mbps for those that qualify.
  • InterConnection provides hotspot internet access with unlimited 4G LTE data on the Sprint cellular, with no throttling or overage charges, for those that qualify. Refurbished laptop and desktop computers at reduced prices are also available through the program.
Last reviewed July 13, 2020