Connecting to the Internet

This article explains how to connect your computer to the Internet through both wifi and Ethernet

Since it was opened to the general public in the 1990s, the Internet has become an essential tool for communication around the world, connecting billions of people and computers together. It is now an essential requirement for day-to-day life in many countries, and has impacted nearly every facet and field of life. In this article, we will guide you through the whole process of connecting your device to the Internet, with a special emphasis on the computers we distribute at Computer Reach, running Xubuntu 20.04.

What is the Internet

The Internet is often called “a network of networks”. In fact, this is what the word “internet” (short for “inter-network”) means. The Internet (traditionally with a capital I) is a global network of smaller networks that allows computers on any one of them to connect with and share information with any other. A computer network is just a connection between a number of computers that allows them to share information (like messages) and resources (such as printers) together. By connecting these networks together, the Internet allows messages and resources to be shared across the world, turning it into a vital communications medium.

Glossary of terms


A connection between computers allowing them to exchange data and share resources between them. Networks come in all sizes and with all manner of resources on them, from the Internet (a very large network) to a small personal network consisting of a smartphone and a smartwatch that only sends short notifications between them.


The world’s largest computer network–a network of networks. It is made up of millions of smaller networks connected together, and supports services like the World Wide Web on top of it, allowing for cheap and worldwide communication between people and computers in every country.


A piece of specialized network hardware that routes communications between devices on a local network, allowing them to share data and resources between them. The router is the heart of a local network, which determines how data is sent between devices, which devices can access the network, and how resources (like a single Internet connection) are shared. Nearly all consumer-grade routers also have an internal wireless access point, which allows devices to connect to the router wirelessly through wifi. 


Short for modulator/demodulator. A modem translates between physically different ways of communication. For example, older dial-up modems translated digital signals from a computer to analog sounds that could be transmitted over a landline telephone line. More modern modems connect to either television cables or optical fiber. In other words, a modem is your access point between your devices on your home network and your ISP, who connects you to the wider Internet.


Short for Internet Service Provider. ISPs provide access to the Internet for a monthly fee. In the Pittsburgh region, the available ISPs are Comcast’s Xfinity and Verizon’s FiOS networks. Other regions may have different ISPs, such as AT&T, Cox, or Spectrum.


Short for Local Area Network. This is another name for a home network consisting of a router and modem and several computers, including PCs, smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.


Short for Wide Area Network. In most practical cases, this is another word for the Internet, though it can technically apply to other large networks that a LAN could connect with.

Ways to connect to the Internet

There are a number of ways to connect to the Internet. On a mobile phone with a data plan, for example, your phone connects through the cellular network.

On other devices, you have to provide another means of connecting to the Internet. This usually means subscribing to a plan from an Internet service provider (ISP) and connecting a device called a modem to your home network through another device called a router. (Often, these come bundled together in a single device.) In the Pittsburgh area, the major ISPs are Comcast and Verizon. When you sign up with one of them, they will provide you with a modem and a wired connection between your house and one of their interchanges, where they then connect you with the global Internet in exchange for a monthly fee. 

For the rest of this article, we will assume that you already have Internet service from one of these providers (or are using a hotspot), and already have a home network set up. This is something that the technician from your ISP who sets up your connection will usually do for you.

Connecting by Ethernet

The simplest way to connect your computer to the Internet is through a physical connection through an Ethernet cable. These are usually thin cables consisting of a pair of copper wires twisted together and protected by a plastic covering, and connector ends that resemble an old telephone wire connector, though slightly larger.

An Ethernet cable

If your computer has an Ethernet port, you can simply plug one end of the cable into that port and the other to a similar port on your router and be immediately connected to the network, including the Internet. Generally, there is no password or additional configuration required on most modern systems. This will also give you the fastest and most reliable connection, and it is recommended whenever it is convenient to install it. 

Unfortunately, many computers do not have Ethernet ports, especially for newer and thinner laptops. If your computer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you probably want to connect by wifi, but it is still possible to connect through an ethernet cable by using a special USB-to-Ethernet adapter.

Connecting by Wifi

While Ethernet is generally the most reliable way to connect to your network, not all computers have ethernet ports, and even when they do, it isn’t always practical or desirable to run a cable to your computer, especially if it’s something that’s supposed to be portable, like a laptop or tablet. For these devices, you want to use wifi, which provides you with a connection via radio waves. 

While this is very convenient, it does suffer from a few drawbacks that are worth being aware of. For one, the signal is subject to interference from other devices, and can become very slow if there are too many active devices connected to it, or even by traffic on your neighbor’s network. For another, being essentially radio, it can be picked up by receivers anywhere within range. This is why most wifi networks have a password, which encrypts the data between your device and the router and protects you from eavesdropping, but it does add an extra step in connecting.

In this section, our instructions will assume you are using Xubuntu 20.04 as distributed by Computer Reach with our computers. However, the general steps are similar for Windows and MacOS, though minor details will be different.

If you look at the bottom-right of the screen, you will see an array of status icons, like in the image above. Look for the wifi icon as indicated in the picture.

Click on that icon and you should see a list of available wifi networks you can join. You need to find yours. If you received a hotspot from us, you will find the default network name and password printed on a sticker on the bottom of the hotspot. If you are using a home network and don’t know your wifi and password, you can often find it printed on the bottom of your router. The network name is also sometimes called the “SSID”, and you might find it labeled that way on your router. Once you find that network name in the menu, click on it and you will be prompted to enter the password. Type in the password and press the Enter key on your keyboard. The icon on the panel should be replaced by an animated icon showing a spinning circle; this means it’s trying to connect. If it connects successfully, the icon should change to a solid white wifi symbol, like in this image.

If you aren’t able to connect, check to make sure that the password you have entered is correct and try again. If everything goes as expected, you should now be connected to the Internet. Feel free to open a browser like Chrome and try it out.

Using a portable hotspot

Some of the computers we send out come with portable hotspots, which allow you to connect to the Internet through a mobile phone network instead of a home ISP. These create their own wifi network, so any device with wifi compatibility–including laptops, phones, tablets, and smart TVs–should be able to connect just like with a regular home wifi network. The only difference is that the hotspot’s performance depends a lot more on its location and traffic on the phone network. If you don’t receive a good cell phone signal where you are, you won’t receive a good signal for accessing the Internet either.

Before connecting to the hotspot, you should make sure that it is on. On most hotspots, including the ones we distribute, you can find the power button on the front or side of the device. Here is an image of a Franklin T10, one of the types we distribute, with the power button on the front side.

If there are no lights on and nothing on the screen, then hold the power button down for a few seconds until it turns on. Wait a moment for it to start up.

When we distribute them, we will usually put the login information on a sticker on the back. If this isn’t the case, or if you or someone else has changed the password after you received it, you can press the power button to display the network name (also called the “SSID”), and if you press it again you can see the password. If you want to change the network name or password, you can find instructions in the hotspot’s user manual.

With this information, you can now connect to the hotspot the same way you would any other wifi network. Find the name of your network (the SSID) in the wifi menu on your computer as described above, click on the name, and then enter the password. You should now be connected to the Internet.


Congratulations, you should now be successfully connected to the Internet. There’s a whole world of new resources out there for you to explore. To learn more about what you can do on the Internet, as well as other tips and guides for making the most out of your computer, be sure to check out our other resources.

By Zachary Peterson, Digital Navigator team, Computer Reach