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can't get Iceweasel to work on my laptop

I received a donated laptop about two years ago. It is an older model--an Acer Travel Mate 2480-2779. It has Debian software, including Iceweasel browser 3.5.9. 
Build identifier, in case you need it, is Mozilla /5.0 (XII; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv: Gecko /20100501 Iceweasel/ 3.5.9 (like Firefox/ 3.5.9)
My problem is that Iceweasel simply does not work at all with most of the wireless services I have encountered. I don't get any error message. I just get something that says Iceweasel cannot locate the page. This is consistent with every URL I try to bring up.
I have to use it mostly public wireless services, at libraries, coffee shops, etc. I have tried a few connections at my friends' homes as well. Usually, I get a "bars" icon and a message that says I am connected to the wireless network. But Iceweasel doesn't do anything at all.
The person who prepared the laptop for me told me this might happen sometimes, and I would have to configure something. But he did not tell me how, nor can I find any instructions or anything on the desktop for this purpose. Also, I do not have the root or admin passwords and have not been able to get them.
I would appreciate any instructions or advice on how to fix this problem. Please use simple language--I am still learning.
Thanks very much.

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