There was a time when EarthLink ruled the internet landscape, back when getting online came with a screechy tune and tied up the phone line. Today, EarthLink has largely progressed from its dial-up days, but is now more of an internet supplier than a provider.
EarthLink offers internet service by using the established DSL and fiber-optic networks of other providers, including AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Verizon and others. As a result, EarthLink is one of the most widely available ISPs, essentially combining the availability of multiple provider networks. California, New York and Texas have the greatest EarthLink availability, but service can be found in parts of 18 other states as well.
Piggybacking on other providers allows EarthLink to boast high availability, but unfortunately, that approach also leads to higher pricing. Shop around, and you'll find that EarthLink's internet costs are higher than most ISPs, but give the company credit for transparent pricing and favorable service terms like unlimited data and a commitment not to throttle anyone's connection.
- No extreme rate hikes after 12 months
- Unlimited data, no speed throttling ever
- Fiber connection where available
- High pricing, no introductory rates
- 12-month contract
- Speeds and network quality vary widely by location.
EarthLink internet plans and service details
EarthLink typically presents customers with three plan options, though those in DSL markets may only have one or two choices depending on what speeds are available.
EarthLink home internet plans
|Plan||Max speeds||Monthly price||Equipment fee||Service contract||Data cap|
|12Mbps (DSL)||12Mbps download, 1Mbps upload||$50||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
|24Mbps (DSL)||24Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||$60||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
|50Mbps (Fiber)||50Mbps download, 50Mbps upload||$50||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
|75Mbps (DSL)||75Mbps download, 8Mbps upload||$70||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
|100Mbps (Fiber)||100Mbps download, 100Mbps upload||$80||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
|1,000Mbps (Fiber)||1,000Mbps download, 1,000Mbps upload||$100||$9 (mandatory)||1-year||None|
Prices are high, but won't jump higher
EarthLink doesn't do introductory pricing, which means you're paying the standard rate right from the get-go. To make matters worse, you're stuck with that pricing for 12 months because all plans come with a one-year contract and an early termination fee of up to $200. High pricing plus a contract is generally not ideal, but there is light at the end of that 12-month tunnel.
Aside from avoiding the early termination fee, your reward for 12 months of continued service is... nothing, as in no price increase. That's not to say the price won't ever go up, but you won't have to worry about a significant jump after that first year as you would with a lot of other ISPs.
If you're with EarthLink for a few years, the high-but-stable pricing could turn out to be the better deal. Take for example Cox, which has relatively low introductory pricing but a steep increase after 12 months with most plans. With the promo rate, Cox's 50Mbps plan is $10 cheaper per month than EarthLink during the first year -- but after that, the monthly price jumps to $66, or $16 more per month than what EarthLink charges. In a two-year period, you've paid roughly $1,200 for 50Mbps with EarthLink versus $1,272 with Cox.
EarthLink won't always work out to be the better long-run deal, however. Be sure to take a close look at the introductory and standard pricing of other providers -- along with how long you anticipate to have service, if possible -- to determine if it's worth paying EarthLink's standard rate from Day 1.
DSL speeds will vary, but don't blame EarthLink
The plans listed above reflect the fastest max speeds available for the price, but some areas -- specifically those in DSL markets -- will see lower speeds for the same price. For example, the $50 DSL plan could come with 3, 6 or 12Mbps while the $60 plan may have max speeds of 18 or 24Mbps. The $70 plan could offer anywhere from 45 to 75Mbps.
Varying speeds at the same price point is a common approach among DSL providers -- and, again, those are the same providers providing Earthlink with the means to sell internet these days -- so I can't knock the company too much for it. Furthermore and to EarthLink's credit, many customers will have two or three plan options whereas most DSL providers only offer one.
Fiber could and should be faster, blame EarthLink
Those in areas serviceable for EarthLink's fiber plans will find more consistent speeds and plan pricing as the 50, 100 and 1,000 plans are available in the majority of EarthLink fiber service areas.
The gigabit service is a decent deal at $100 per month, but for a fiber provider, I expect faster speeds from the lower-tiered plans. Most fiber providers have much higher starting speeds -- up to 300Mbps with AT&T and 200Mbps with Verizon Fios, for example -- along with a lower starting price. Frontier FiberOptic also has a 50Mbps plan, but the next speed tier jumps to 500Mbps compared to EarthLink's modest increase to just 100Mbps.
EarthLink Wi-Fi, installation fees and data caps
Wi-Fi service is available with all EarthLink plans at no additional charge other than the equipment rental fee, which is $9 per month. Though the fee is unavoidable -- even if you choose to use your own equipment -- it is marginally lower than most providers, including those EarthLink partners with. AT&T and Frontier, for example, both have monthly equipment fees of $10 while CenturyLink and Verizon's fees are even higher, at around $15 per month.
An installation fee for what, exactly?
New customers will also be hit with a one-time upfront installation fee of $80, which is somewhat confusing because EarthLink doesn't actually perform the install itself. Instead, EarthLink partners with "your local telephone company" (i.e. the actual provider whose network EarthLink is using for service) to complete your install.
In some cases, EarthLink's $80 fee may be lower than the provider's professional installation fee, as it is with CenturyLink, which has an installation fee of $99. Many providers, however, waive the installation fee when you sign up or include installation at no extra cost.
No data caps, no speed throttling
The value of EarthLink's Wi-Fi equipment and installation could be hit or miss depending on the internet options in your area, but one indisputable perk of EarthLink internet is the unlimited data. EarthLink claims to actually "hate" data caps, so you won't have to worry about one with any EarthLink plan, even if the partner provider enforces them. Additionally, EarthLink pledges to never throttle your speeds.
Comparing EarthLink to other providers
Through its partnerships with DSL and fiber-optic providers across the US, EarthLink is one of the largest ISPs in the country and thus is available in many markets where other DSL, cable and fiber-optic providers also offer service. A good rule of thumb when comparing any internet service is that cable is better than DSL and fiber-optic is better than cable, so start from that framework as you're shopping around for a plan.
EarthLink DSL versus the competition
DSL is typically a go-to for cheap internet, but this isn't necessarily the case with EarthLink. The lowest-priced DSL plan from EarthLink is $50 per month and only offers speeds up to 12Mbps.
For comparison, DSL providers AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier all have entry-level plans with starting prices lower than $50 per month (admittedly, CenturyLink's is $49) and faster max speeds than EarthLink.
Cable internet from providers such as Cox, Mediacom, Spectrum and Xfinity, are likely to deliver a greater variety of plans and faster speeds for the price. For example, Spectrum offers three plan options in most service areas, including a gigabit plan as well as a $50-per-month plan that offers speeds up to 200Mbps.
EarthLink fiber vs. the competition
EarthLink fiber is, again, comparatively high priced, especially considering that EarthLink's speed tiers of 50 and 100Mbps are lower than you'll find from most fiber providers. AT&T Fiber and Verizon Fios have a lower starting price and faster max speeds with their lowest-priced plans than EarthLink (up to 300Mbps for $35 per month and up to 200Mbps for $40 per month, respectively). And while Frontier FiberOptic has a 50Mbps plan for around the same price as EarthLink's, the provider also offers a 500Mbps midtier plan that's a better value than EarthLink's 100Mbps.
EarthLink's gigabit service is priced higher than fiber providers AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier and Verizon Fios, but may be lower than gigabit service from cable providers. Gigabit service from Cox and Spectrum, for example, comes at a higher starting price than EarthLink -- and will go up even higher after 12 months while EarthLink pricing stays the same. Additionally, you're likely to get much faster upload speeds with EarthLink fiber than you would with cable.
EarthLink vs. the providers it partners with
There are some areas where customers will have both the option of EarthLink and the DSL or fiber-optic provider EarthLink partners with for service. In these areas, it's often more cost-effective to simply go with the actual provider, but there may be some instances where EarthLink is the more desirable service.
If you're looking for unlimited data, you may want to consider EarthLink over AT&T DSL or CenturyLink, which both come with monthly data limits. And if you simply don't want to deal with the provider -- Frontier, for example, is notorious for poor customer satisfaction -- choosing EarthLink could save you the frustration.
EarthLink customer satisfaction and contact info
Customer satisfaction outlets like the American Customer Satisfaction Index and J.D. Power do not include EarthLink in their reports, so it's difficult to determine how real customers feel about their service.
The Better Business Bureau does give EarthLink an "A-plus" rating in spite of an exceptionally low customer review score. At 1.02 out of 5, EarthLink's BBB customer review score is lower than most major ISPs including Frontier, which has a 1.04. Many of the 57 reviews and 162 filed complaints reference inconsistent speeds and frustration over the early termination fee.
It comes as little surprise that customers have an issue with speed consistency and reliability. With a variety of other providers supplying EarthLink's service, some of which are known for speed issues, the quality of your connection may vary from address to address. Notably, EarthLink's outage history on DownDetector.com isn't great, with significant outages in December, May and most recently on June 13, each of them drawing hundreds of complaints.
Should EarthLink customers have a problem with their service or issues with their bill, EarthLink makes it easier than most to get in touch with customer service and technical support. EarthLink customer support can be found online at support.earthlink.net where customers can either browse popular topics or chat with a live representative.
EarthLink is also one of, if not the only, ISP that gives customers the option to text customer support in addition to calling. Customers can call the EarthLink customer service number at 888-327-8454 or send a text to 833-458-4360.
Summing it all up
EarthLink is somewhat different in that the ISP does not technically provide internet service but rather sells service plans using the DSL and fiber-optic networks of other providers. As a result, EarthLink plans are generally higher-priced than many other providers, but there are some advantages to EarthLink service, such as stable pricing and unlimited data, that could make the cost of service worthwhile.