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Small but spunky, EarthLink offers a lot to its High Speed Internet customers. With its DSL package, you get Web site-building tools, a photo and music center, eight e-mail addresses with Web site space for each, and a range of free security software, including antivirus software and a firewall. Free, 24-hour telephone support ensures that all your questions get answered. You'll need to pay extra for EarthLink's Home Networking service, Voice over IP (VoIP), and other goodies, and EarthLink's bandwidth speed is much slower than that of its competitors. But if you want a wide range of features from a security-minded provider, EarthLink may be a good choice for you.DSL pricing info
|Price||Intro rate: $19.95/month for six months|
After six months: $39.95/month for 1.5Mbps service, $44.95/month for 3Mbps service
|Activation fee||Free (limited-time offer); regularly $99|
|Equipment fee||Free (limited-time offer); regularly $200|
|Contract length||12 months|
|Early termination fee||$149.95|
|Support||24 hours a day, 7 days a week|
EarthLink High Speed Internet includes nationwide cable, DSL, and satellite service as well as limited wireless service. We tested EarthLink's high-speed DSL, an increasingly popular choice for e-mail and Web surfing. Since EarthLink doesn't provide DSL service directly (it acts as a reseller), you'll need to call your local phone company to get it to provision your line for DSL. This can take a few days. Once your line is ready, you can use EarthLink's self-installation kit to set up DSL service. Printed documents within the kit include a quick-start guide, a printed user guide, and a copy of your service agreement. The hardware in the kit includes an EarthLink CD, a DSL Broadmax UHP modem, an AC adapter, telephone and Ethernet cables, a microfilter, a Y-adapter (in case you need to plug another analog device into your phone jack), and a telephone-line swapper. If you have more than one phone jack in your residence, you will need to buy additional single-line microfilters or dual-line microfilters (for a two-line phone) to screen out interference from the DSL signal. If you need a router to network several computers, you must purchase that separately. If you want to use a server, EarthLink's dynamic IP addresses, while secure, can complicate your server installation.
Once you've installed the UHP modem, you configure it online. Then you install the software from the CD. We found the whole hardware and software installation process straightforward and fairly painless, and we finished within a few hours.
EarthLink is not the largest, fastest, or cheapest ISP, and its 5 million subscribers nationwide don't approach AOL's 20 million. That said, EarthLink subscribers receive excellent technical-support service and many popular features not available from smaller, locally owned ISPs.
The basic DSL account comes with Web mail and eight 10MB e-mail addresses, each of which gets 10MB of Web space. EarthLink's free Trellix site builder makes creating your own Web site simple, even for the HTML-challenged. Although the user interface keeps you from performing more advanced tasks, such as embedding a Web link in a block of text, EarthLink provides templates, layout options, and separate spaces for adding Web links, pictures, tables, and the like. Our DSL subscription also included the following: 20 hours a month of dial-up support, to use as a backup for DSL or for when you're on the road; a Photo Center with unlimited digital-photo storage; and EarthLink Jukebox, where you can create and play MP3s and CDs and buy 99-cent tracks. For extra fees you can add Home Networking service ($7.95 per month), which includes technical support for setting up and maintaining a home network; e-mail access via telephone ($4.95 per month); VoIP telephone service ($14.99 to $49.99 per month); and a gaming subscription ($9.95 per month).
EarthLink prides itself on being security-minded, and it does a good job of keeping unwanted e-mail and ads at bay. Subscribers can access the EarthLink Protection Center, which offers free antivirus protection from Authentium (formerly Command Antivirus) and a firewall. EarthLink is ending its discount with Symantec Norton AntiVirus and replacing its current Webroot antispyware protection with software from Aluria, an antispyware company it recently purchased. Other free security tools include ScamBlocker, to foil phishing schemes; SpamBlocker and Pop-Up Blocker, which filter out junk e-mail and pop-up ads; and Parental Controls, a suite of filters that works with EarthLink TotalAccess software to monitor Web, e-mail, and IM content.
EarthLink advertises DSL speeds for its High Speed service of up to 3Mbps. Our test machine in San Francisco uses an older EarthLink 300K ADSL account through Covad. According to the CNET BandwidthMeter, our bandwidth in September 2005 was 298.7Kbps. Performance can very widely from location to location. Your speed largely depends on how far you are from the central office (CO) supplying your connection. The farther you are from the CO, the slower the data rate. We encourage you to check out our user comments and add share your own experiences. If DSL isn't fast enough for you, consider Comcast's High-Speed Internet service, but expect to pay about twice as much.
EarthLink offers free, 24/7 customer service. Once you wade through the support voicemail system, you quickly connect with a knowledgeable technical-support person. EarthLink also provides live chat Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. For common questions, the form for e-mail support refers you to other parts of the EarthLink Web site rather than letting you send in your question, which can be annoying. Live chat, though, is responsive and helpful.