EarthLink Review – 2020

EarthLink is the largest DSL internet service provider in the USA by coverage area. It is also the third-largest fiber internet provider in the USA.

Pros of EarthLink

  • Is available to more than 165 million US residents
  • The largest DSL provider in the country
  • No data caps
  • Choice of DSL or fiber internet plans
  • Fast customer service response

Cons of EarthLink

  • No bundling with TV or telephone service
  • No contract-less options
  • Top speeds are not available in all of the service areas

Table of Contents

Overview of EarthLink Internet Services

The history of EarthLink began in 1994. It first started offering dial-up internet connections but switched over to high-speed DSL broadband in 1999. The secret of the company’s success is that it partners with network owners rather than running its own network. This is pretty unique in the industry because the USA broadband sector is dominated by companies that run their services over their own physical networks.

Its corporate history is complicated by a long list of mergers and acquisitions. In March 2017, the company was taken over by its smaller rival Windstream, which is only the sixth-largest DSL internet provider in the USA. The smaller company was able to afford the takeover because the debts of EarthLink dragged its value down. Windstream never integrated EarthLink into its own corporate structure and sold the company off in January 2019, making EarthLink an independent business once more.

Some Points About EarthLink

Surprisingly, Earthlink doesn’t offer an internet discount deal to low-income families. The company is more or less alone in this. Even the company’s former partner has an access plan for families receiving Federal assistance.

The company doesn’t do too well on delivering its promised speeds. The Federal Communications Commission periodically investigates the major internet service providers to check whether their service is as good as their adverting promises. The latest study was performed during 2018 and 2019. These tests don’t detail the EarthLink performance separately because the company was still regarded as being part of Windstream. However, the Windstream performance (and therefore also that of EarthLink) was not too good.

The FCC tested the performance of the service from several residential user locations and found that Windstream/EarthLink didn’t deliver their promised speeds either in peak hours or at off-peak times. The results of this study are contained in the Report on Consumer Fixed Broadband Performance in the United States.

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) also scrutinizes the performance of the USA’s major internet service providers every year from the perspective of consumer opinion. The latest findings of the survey, like the FCC, still lump EarthLink in with Windstream. Again, the service didn’t score very well.

The ACSI measures customer satisfaction as a percentage and publishes those findings annually. The last edition of the ACSI Telecommunications Report compares the score of each ISP in 2019 with its score in 2018. Windstream/EarthLink got a score of 56 percent in 2018 and 57 percent in 2019. This put the company in ninth place in both years.  

Although the EarthLink service footprint makes its internet plans available to 165 million US residents, its customer base isn’t nearly as big. The company actually has one million subscribers. That figure is a long way below the company’s potential and it means that the service is not the most widely used internet provider in the USA. By comparison, AT&T has 15.7 million subscribers to its internet service in the USA.

EarthLink’s greatest customer base is concentrated in the big cities of Texas and California. It also has a large customer count in New York and Chicago. The service quality of EarthLink’s internet is not consistent all over the country. Rural areas don’t get the fast speeds available in the big cities.

The best internet service from EarthLink is available where the company has fiber optic cable laid. The states that have the slowest service available from EarthLink include Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington DC – densely populated areas that would ordinarily be expected to be the first choice of any communications company.

The slowest speed offered by EarthLink is 3 Mbps. The fastest speed available from EarthLink is the Hyperlink 1 Gbps plan, which gives 1,000 Mbps. These speeds all refer to download performance – the company does not advertise its upload speeds.

When looking for residential internet service, knowing the download speed is much more important than details of the upload speed. “Download” refers to traffic traveling from the ISP’s internet access point to the customer’s modem. “Upload” traffic goes from the customer to the ISP’s internet access point.

Residential users receive much more traffic than they send. For example, the request for a web page involves a very low number of bytes of data. The response, containing all of the code for the page requires a large volume of data, particularly if the page contains images or videos.

EarthLink Plans

EarthLink has a total of nine plans. Four of these deploy DSL at speeds of 3, 6, 12, and 24 Mbps, the remaining five plans run over fiber and offer 50, 80, 100, and 200 Mbps and 1 Gbps. The table below details a selection of these plans.

 

Plan Download Speed Upload Speed Data Cap Contract Duration
Internet 3 3 Mbps N/A None 1 Year
HyperLink 50 50 Mbps N/A None 1 Year
HyperLink 200 200 Mbps N/A None 1 Year
HyperLink 1 Gig 1 Gbps N/A None 1 Year

It isn’t possible to get internet service from EarthLink without a contract. All plans carry a contract period of one year. It is possible to get out of the contract before a year expires. However, those who cancel the agreement before its anniversary have to pay an “early termination fee” (EFT). That fee is the same for all plans: $200. The ETF gets smaller as the months on the contract pass and the remaining obligation reduces.

EarthLink Pricing Overview

All plans have the same contractual conditions – contract length, early termination fee, and data throughput rules. All DSL plans have the same setup cost and all fiber plans have the same setup fee. The modem rental fee is the same for all plans.

 

All DSL plans are offered with a discount period of three months. The only HyperLink plan that has an introductory offer is HyperLink 50, which has a discount for the first year – the entirely of the minimum service period.  

 

The table below shows the prices of a selection of EarthLink plans as of January 2020.

 

Plan Introductory Offer Standard Price Setup Cost Equipment Fee
Internet 3 $14.95/month $39.95/month $19.95 $6.95/month
HyperLink 50 $49.99/month $69.95/month $69.95 $6.95/month
HyperLink 200 None $89.95/month $69.95 $6.95/month
HyperLink 1 Gig None $99.95/month $69.95 $6.95/month

The setup fee for the DSL plans are for self-install and is a shipping and handling fee. Professional installation is required for all HyperLink plans, which is why the setup fee is so much higher.

EarthLink Customer Service

Each EarthLink customer gets an account area on the EarthLink website. This service includes a webmail system, which allows each account to have up to eight email addresses on the EarthLink domain.

The account area is also a place where the customer can check account details, order new services, and communicate with the customer support center through a web form. Customer support can also be contacted via email, phone, and a live chat system on the website. The help center on the website also includes a searchable knowledgebase, which enables the customer to fix problems without recourse to the service’s technicians.

Choosing EarthLink Plans

It is unusual that EarthLink doesn’t provide a TV package or a telephone service that could be bundled in with the internet service. Just about all of the ISP’s major rivals offer these other services. When diversifying its activities to add to its internet access income stream, the company decided to enter the cloud services market for business customers.

EarthLink offers very fast fiber internet in some locations. However, most of its customers get DSL service. The speed and quality of the EarthLink DSL internet service vary widely across the country. Properties in small towns and rural areas only get offered a speed of 3 Mbps. This is incredibly slow compared to the speeds that EarthLink offers in other parts of the country. However, it is still fast enough for video streaming. If you live in an area where EarthLink is the only ISP available and you are only offered 3 Mbps, it might be worth checking out satellite internet providers that can offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps.