While reviews say digital subscriber line (DSL) service generally isn't as fast as a cable Internet connection, it's often less expensive. The lowest prices are available to those who also have telephone service with their provider. Downstream speeds generally range from 768 Kbps to 7 Mbps.
EarthLink DSL (*Est. $30 per month) offers slightly different plans in various U.S. regions. It does reasonably well in older surveys and user reviews, but there isn't much current feedback. EarthLink scores third in the East and West regions in J.D. Power and Associates' customer satisfaction survey of ISPs in 2010. More recently, EarthLink DSL gets high ratings behind top fiber and cable companies in PCMag.com's 2012 survey of customers and in ConsumerReports.org's 2012 report. Subscribers give the ISP lower scores at BroadbandReports.com, which is typical of DSL providers versus faster carriers, but praise EarthLink's reliability.
EarthLink's plans and rates vary widely depending on location, ranging from 768 Kpbs to 7 Mbps download speeds. Plans include 20 hours of dial-up service; 24/7 phone and online support; a free modem, virus and spyware protection; and 10 MB of web hosting. Each account comes with eight email addresses with 100 MB of storage each.
With companies such as EarthLink, AT&T and Verizon rolling out affordable DSL services to compete with dial-up, it's hard to recommend a slower dial-up plan except in cases where DSL isn't available. This may explain the lack of recent reviews of dial-up services. Basic dial-up speed is 56 Kbps for both downloading and uploading data.
EarthLink dial-up (*Est. $22 per month) comes out on top in the 2008 J.D. Power and Associates survey of dial-up ISPs, where it receives particularly good marks for customer service, billing, performance and reliability. However, no survey of dial-up ISP customers has been conducted since 2008. Software features are similar to what you get with other EarthLink services, including the same spam filtering and antivirus features, and eight email accounts. An accelerator feature helps some text and graphics on web pages load faster, although not as fast as broadband. The same 24/7 customer support is available as for EarthLink's cable and DSL subscribers.
If you only occasionally use the Internet and don't want to spend $20 to $30 per month for dial-up or low-speed DSL, services such as Juno and NetZero offer free Internet access for 10 hours a month in return for being allowed to park advertising windows on your screen. You can generally move around but not close the ad boxes, which can be annoying depending on the size of your monitor and your tolerance level.
Juno and NetZero are owned by the same corporate parent, United Online, and offer identical services and prices. That includes 10 hours of free dial-up Internet access per month, plus multiple email accounts with mobile and web access. The next step up at NetZero (Free for 10 hours per month; $10 per month for unlimited access) offers unlimited Internet access, spam and email virus protection, a personal website and 24/7 phone support. With Juno, an accelerator that makes web pages appear to load faster comes in a step-up plan (*Est. $50 per month) that also includes the Norton AntiVirus suite.
These free plans can be useful as a second service. For example, even if you have a broadband Internet connection at home, it may not include a dial-up phone number for Internet access while you're away. Free ISPs can also serve as a backup in case your primary Internet service provider has temporary problems like power outages.