Many Twin Cities customers of Comcast's Internet service found an effective workaround to a widespread outage that lasted about four hours Sunday night.
Users turned to Twitter and Facebook on their mobile phones for a solution to Comcast's apparent Domain Name System (DNS) server outage. The problem denied the Web, e-mail and other services to an unknown number of people in the Twin Cities, western Wisconsin, Detroit and Chicago, said Comcast spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert.
DNS servers act like a phone book for the Internet. They translate Web addresses like MPRnews.org into numeric addresses understood by the Internet. When DNS servers fail, addresses cannot be properly translated, so Web pages do not get displayed on users' screens.
Twitter and Facebook buzzed with a solution: Stop using Comcast's DNS servers, substituting servers operated by Google or OpenDNS instead. The solution required Comcast to tweak their Internet settings. It worked.
"Bypassed the Comcast outage with Google DNS," wrote Nobu Hata of Plymouth, Minn. on Twitter. "Worked like a charm."
Despite the efficacy of the workaround, it did require users who were willing to do a little under-the-hood work to their Internet routers or computers, and for those Comcast customers to have a mobile device capable of using a cell phone network so they could find their way to Facebook and Twitter.