So last night in the midst of the usual connection slowdown, I decided to take matters into my own hands and switched the router over to use OpenDNS servers instead of Cox DNS servers. The time to establish connections to sites immediately improved and there were no further timeouts. We will see how it works tonight.
The reason I suspected a DNS issue was because (as Cox determined) the modem signal was fine, and all the speed tests — when they would run — reported normal or near-normal download speeds even while sites were completely failing to load. The main issue we were having was that it was really slow to start a session with a new site, often timing out or giving “address not found” errors on the first try but working on the second or third. Once on a site, things were generally reasonably quick. This suggested that the difficulty was in either resolving the host name (i.e., turning “yahoo.com” into Yahoo’s IP address) or in negotiating the initial TCP connection (i.e., getting “directions” from here to Yahoo). Reasoning that Cox’s DNS servers might be saturated by the kid next door downloading porn, I took them out of the equation. So far it seems to have worked.
So go ahead, kid. Download the entire Star Wars series and every episode of Family Guy. See if we care.