EarthLink internet overview: High prices but low hassle

EarthLink internet overview: High prices but low hassle

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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’s costs tend to be a bit higher, but fairly straightforward pricing and a dedication to customer support help justify the premium. Let’s dig in to exactly what that means so you can decide if EarthLink is the right internet service for your home.

A quick look at the good and not so good

Like any ISP, EarthLink has its pros and cons. Just how good or bad EarthLink service is largely depends on your location and on which provider serves your area.

What EarthLink has going for it:

  • Availability: EarthLink plans are available in many of the locations that its partners offer service, meaning EarthLink technically has the availability of multiple ISPs combined.
  • Fiber connections: Select locations will be eligible for fiber service, which can deliver gigabit speeds, or up to 1,000 megabits per second. Furthermore, the fiber-optic connection offers symmetrical upload and download speeds, something you aren’t likely to get from cable internet service providers such as Spectrum and Xfinity.
  • Unlimited data, no throttling: All EarthLink plans come with unlimited data, even if the partner provider EarthLink uses in your area enforces a data cap. Additionally, EarthLink has a “no throttle guarantee.”

Why you may want to pass on EarthLink: 

  • High pricing: I’ve mentioned this a few times already, and — spoiler alert — I’ll bring it up again further down the page, but EarthLink’s pricing tends to be higher than average. Prices range from $50 to $100 per month, which isn’t overly expensive for home internet, but the value of your plan depends on the speeds you can get.
  • Speed variations: Since EarthLink uses various networks from different providers, speeds and connection quality can vary widely by region. Speeds for EarthLink’s DSL service can range from 3Mbps to 75Mbps, but some locations may only be eligible for max speeds of 18Mbps or lower. Those able to get fiber service, however, will have more consistent speed options and reliability.
  • 12-month contract: All EarthLink plans come with a 12-month contract, even though many of the providers that EarthLink partners with to supply service do not require a contract. Canceling service before your contract expires will result in an early termination fee of up to $200.

That’s a brief overview of the main highs and lows you can expect from EarthLink internet service. If you can take the good with the bad, you’ll find EarthLink pricing and service details below, along with a look at how EarthLink compares to other providers.

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. While fiber-optic speeds and pricing are largely consistent throughout EarthLink service areas, DSL speeds and pricing will vary by location.

EarthLink HyperLink plans

Plan Monthly price Equipment rental fee Max download speeds Max upload speeds Connection type
12Mbps $50 $9 12Mbps 1Mbps DSL
24Mbps $60 $9 24Mbps 3Mbps DSL
50Mbps $50 $9 50Mbps 50Mbps Fiber
75Mbps $70 $9 75Mbps 8Mbps DSL
100Mbps $80 $9 100Mbps 100Mbps Fiber
1,000Mbps $100 $9 1,000Mbps 1,000Mbps Fiber

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 and the $70 could offer anywhere from 45 to 75Mbps. 

Varying speeds for the same price point is common among DSL providers, so I can’t knock EarthLink too much for it. And to EarthLink’s credit, many customers will have multiple plan options whereas most DSL providers only offer one plan.

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. Keep in mind, however, that EarthLink is available in many locations and uses different partner networks, so available speeds and pricing can vary from one ZIP code to the next.

EarthLink Wi-Fi, data caps and other service details

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. 

New customers will also be hit with a one-time upfront installation fee of $80, which is somewhat confusing because EarthLink does not actually do the install. 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. 

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 uses them. Additionally, EarthLink pledges to never throttle your speeds, though overall speed reliability will vary on the internet type and provider network.

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.

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 starting prices lower than $50 per month (admittedly, CenturyLink’s is $49) with faster max speeds than EarthLink.

Cable internet, from providers such as Cox, Mediacom, Spectrum and Xfinity, are likely to deliver more plan options and faster speeds for the price. For example, Spectrum offers three plan options in most service areas, including a gigabit plan and 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 the speeds you get as 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 compared to 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. 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+” 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.

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 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 unlimited data and competitive pricing on gigabit speeds.