EarthLink is an interesting provider. Instead of serving internet through its own infrastructure, it partners with other internet providers to repackage their service, acting as a go-between. This means higher prices, but a reputation for great customer service might make EarthLink worth it.
This budget internet provider offers DSL, cable, and fiber internet at a low price. However, TDS doesn’t guarantee advertised speeds, and it’s probably not your fastest option. If you want the highest speeds, guaranteed speeds, or unlimited data, this isn’t the provider for you.
There’s no getting around it: EarthLink prices are almost always higher than the competition. Depending on the area, the difference can be as little as a few dollars per month, but it’s still there. That said, there are actually legitimate reasons for this.
First, EarthLink doesn’t actually have its own internet infrastructure. Instead, it partners with other local DSL and fiber internet providers, like AT&T and Frontier, and uses their infrastructure. This costs EarthLink money, and some of this naturally gets passed down to customers. In return, you’re promised a better customer experience.
The other reason is that EarthLink skips the usual promotional pricing most ISPs advertise. For example, when AT&T or Spectrum quote you a price, it’s often for an introductory period of 12 or 24 months, after which that price may increase (sometimes dramatically). EarthLink doesn’t do this, which is a plus in our book. This also means EarthLink may end up slightly less expensive if you intend to keep it for a couple of years.
TDS’s DSL, cable, and fiber internet range from a superslow 1 Mbps to a superfast 2 Gbps, with over a dozen plans in between. Prices vary by location, but most seem to come in below US benchmarks for comparable broadband speeds (1) and are cheaper than similar plans from Xfinity, Spectrum, and Cox.
Unfortunately, TDS loses points for value because we’ve seen a lot of customer complaints about slower-than-advertised speeds. If you opt for a higher plan to account for that (which is what TDS reccommends if you don't see the speeds it advertises), you’ll probably end up paying more than you would somewhere else for the same speed.
EarthLink's performance is tough to rate. Because it is essentially reselling other providers’ services, the speed and reliability are highly dependent on which partners it uses in a given area.
That said, performance is generally good, and there are a wide range of high-speed internet plans available in most areas, so you can get exactly how much you need—up to 5 gigs in some places. Much of the service is fiber, which means performance is reliably consistent. Best of all, every plan has unlimited data, so whatever speed you opt for, you can use it without worry.
TDS says you could see speeds “up to” your plan’s max, which isn’t uncommon of internet service providers, but TDS seems to get a lot of complaints from customers seeing much lower speeds than advertised. And if you’re not happy with the speeds you’re seeing, TDS’ solution is to switch to a lower-level plan, and it’ll waive its usual $15 fee for switching plans mid-contract. But if you ask us, this feels like an ineffective solution since lower-level plan speeds aren’t guaranteed either. You could end up with even lower speeds, albeit at a lower cost. If TDS fiber is available in your area, you should see more consistent speeds since fiber optic technology is more reliable all around.
Depending on your location, your TDS plan might come with unlimited data. Or it might come with a data cap of 500 GB and overage fees if you go over that. This cap is pretty low, considering most people use around 500 GB per month all on their own. Unless you live alone, it won’t be enough. And if you use less than 500 GB, the extra won’t roll over.
This is another category that’s tough to rate. Since EarthLink partners with other internet service providers (ISPs) to provide service, it doesn’t actually issue its own equipment. Instead, you’ll get equipment from whichever partner EarthLink uses in your area. The good news is that EarthLink does set the fees, and they’re reasonable: $9.95 per month.
It’s a similar story for installation—your service will be installed and set up by a rep from the partner company, not EarthLink itself. The installation fee is $79.95, which isn’t the highest we’ve seen. That said, we’d rather see installation included in the price, particularly since EarthLink’s overall prices tend to be on the high side. Self-install is available only in some service areas.
TDS offers two equipment options, which you purchase and pay down each month. A standard modem and Wi-Fi router combo is $10/month, and Wi-Fi+ is around $20/month. Wi-Fi+ comes with a modem plus an eero Wi-Fi home base and one mesh extender—all of which should give you 2,500 sq. ft. of signal, which isn’t too bad. (2) TDS recommends adding an extender ($5) for every additional 1,000 feet beyond that. This system comes with a smartphone app that makes managing your Wi-Fi easy.
Self-installation is free and takes about 15 minutes, but it’s available in only some locations. In others, professional installation is required for no additional charge. However, if self-installation is available in your area and you still want professional help, it’ll cost you around $50.
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Customer service is where EarthLink really shines. The company claims to prioritize customer service and experience, and users seem to agree. The company actually ranks first in some user-driven surveys of internet satisfaction, beating out providers like AT&T and Verizon despite the higher prices.
From a practical standpoint, it seems that EarthLink representatives are friendlier, more helpful, and more knowledgeable than those we’ve dealt with at other companies. However, we've seen reports that some customers don't get the Earthlink customer experience. In some places, customer service is handled by the end provider instead.
With TDS, you’ll get around-the-clock tech support, including phone calls, online chat, and remote internet sessions (during which a technician logs into your computer remotely to troubleshoot your connection).
If you want help with more than your connection, you can pay around $13 per month for a Remote PC Support subscription. With it, you can get help with network security, optimizing your computer, and setting up your devices. Without the subscription, you’ll pay around $50 each time you need these services. If you’re tech savvy, you’ll save a lot by skipping the subscription. But if you think you’ll need help at least once per quarter, the subscription will be cheaper.