Examine your phone equipment for damage

If you're having problems with your home phone service, your equipment could be damaged or incorrectly installed.

Take a few minutes to check all of the following equipment:

  • Phone handsets
  • Phone cords
  • Jacks
  • Other equipment

Start with the piece of equipment you use every time you make a call: your phone.

  • Look closely at the buttons on your phones. Are any of numbers stuck, or do you have reason to believe the handset could be malfunctioning? If so, try a different telephone.

  • Confirm all your phones are hung up firmly. Yes, this sounds obvious, but sometimes a receiver can be just slightly off the hook, which will cause all phones in the home to disconnect.

  • Double check your phone's ringer. Has it been turned off?

  • Determine if your cordless phone is causing problems. Read more about how to improve your cordless phone's performance.

Tip: Do you have more than four phones, or any other equipment, plugged into your jacks? It's possible that you've exceeded the line's load capacity. Unplug all the phones and devices from their jacks. One by one plug each back in. When you notice the problem again, you'll know that you've reached your phone line's maximum load capacity.

Continue the examination of your phones to look at your cords. You're looking for any cuts, cracks, chew marks or loose wiring.

Even small nicks and cuts can cause an intermittent dial tone and problems with calls. Run your fingers along the phone cord to help you feel damage that might be hard to see. Replace any damaged phone cords and wiring that you can get to.

Depending on the location of the problem, trouble with your inside wiring can affect just one or all your phones. If you stumble upon bigger wiring issues, read more about how to get phone wiring and jacks repaired

First, visually inspect each jack, looking for any obvious damage. Next, try to isolate which jacks, if any, are malfunctioning by figuring out if they're in service.

Hardware inspection

Use a flashlight to look inside each jack. You should be able to clearly see gold pins in each one. If they're blue, green, black or smoky, you've likely found a problem. Pay particular attention to jacks that could be exposed to moisture. Condensation from water (or exposure to the ammonia in pet urine) can cause copper contacts to corrode.

There could be more than one jack that's not working. If you find one, continue to check for others.

Next, check that each jack is operating properly — starting with any jacks that look suspect.

Service inspection

  1. Unplug all your phones from their jacks. If you're using a cordless phone, unplug the base from the electrical outlet as well. If you have any other equipment plugged into the jack — satellite receivers, computer modems, caller ID boxes, fax machines, answering machines and alarm/security systems — unplug them too.

  2. After you've unplugged all your equipment, wait one minute and then plug a simple, corded phone into the jack. You should hear a clear, strong dial tone. If you don't, make a note of what you heard.

  3. Repeat step two for every jack.

If all your jacks have a clear, strong dial tone, the problem is probably with your phone. Try replacing it.

If you hear a faint or intermittent dial tone, make a note of which jacks don't seem to be working and what you heard when you tested them. Next, read How to get phone wiring and jacks repaired.

If you don't have a dial tone on any of your jacks, you can use our Service Troubleshooter to check for any outages in your area. And you can test your service at your Network Interface Device. Read how to troubleshoot for no dial tone.

Troubleshoot problems with your service

It could be that your phone and jacks are not the problem, but rather, other home electronics could be interfering with your service.

Equipment that can interfere includes satellite TV receivers, computer modems, caller ID boxes, fax machines, and alarm/security systems.

Typical symptoms of interference include noise on the line, cross talk/other conversations, busy tone while talking, and intermittent dial tone.

To test your equipment:
  1. Unplug your phones from both their jacks and electrical outlets. 
  2. Unplug any other equipment that uses a jack. 
  3. After you've unplugged all your equipment, wait one minute and then plug a corded phone into each jack — testing one jack at a time.

You should hear a clear, strong dial tone when you test each jack. If you don't, make a note of which piece of equipment is plugged in and what you heard when you tested the jack.

If you're finding interference but don't want to unplug the offending piece of equipment, try installing a radio suppresser or radio/noise filter on your line.

Tip: If callers tell you they hear fax tones when they call, but you don't have a fax machine, the problem could be your satellite receiver. Try unplugging the receiver from the phone line and retesting. If the problem goes away, the issue is the receiver, and you need to contact your satellite TV provider to get it fixed.

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