An alternative to Mediacom’s (or any ISP’s) DNS servers and why you care

Lost Packet
Since I live in a college town, when the students come back from their various breaks my load times for websites and the like tend to become expletive-inducingly slow. My first thought was that since there are so many people in my neighborhood that there was just not enough bandwidth to supply to everyone. However a bit of testing revealed that as long as my connection was persistent then bandwidth never really dropped below 4-5Mb/s –plenty fast enough for loading a simple website. Naturally this got me pondering why my connection speeds were so slow.

It didn’t take long to pinpoint the issue: Mediacom‘s DNS servers seem to drop up to 50-75% of my packet requests, at least in the limited testing that I did. Since nearly everything we do on the internet involves DNS requests you would think that an ISP would have efficient DNS servers in place but no, not Mediacom. Mediacom’s DNS servers must be running on Tandy 1000‘s. Never fear though, there is a solution!

DNS, if I haven’t lost you already, is a service that takes anything you type into your browser (e.g. http://www.google.com) and gets its IP address, which your computer can then use for communication. The DNS server is like a phonebook for websites on the internet. This is a very simple introduction, you can learn more about what a DNS server is and does here. Extending this analogy to Mediacom, they have just a handful of phone books and they distribute them first come first served. Just like when you need a phone number from the phone book before you can place a call, you also need information from the DNS server before you can visit a website. This is why having a reliable DNS server is critical when using the internet.

You could always run your own DNS server, but not everyone is capable or willing to do so. Luckily there are many public DNS servers available which you can use as alternatives to your ISP’s. A simple query on your search engine of choice for “Public DNS Servers” will return a list of free and open-to-the-public DNS servers for use, most of which are often better than the servers your ISP provides. I am using Google’s public DNS servers and doing so has significantly increased my browsing speeds.

If you feel interested in giving it a try Google has great documentation on how to configure your DNS servers here. You can substitute another server instead of Google’s if you so choose I just feel that their documentation is excellent. If you don’t have much experience with any of this I recommend following Google’s instructions and using their servers. Their instructions are straightforward and their servers are solid and very quick. Google even has phone support if you need help in setting it up.

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