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Is getting my Comcast internet via Earthlink a lot worse than it has seemed in the past?
December 17, 2011 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What's going on with this Earthlink redirect default, and how ticked off should I be?

I want to stress up front I have solved the core problem by disabling the default opt-in following the links found at this page. But I'd like to know what was really going on with the situation I describe below, and whether it should make me mad enough to go to the trouble of jettisoning Earthlink as my ISP that my Comcast-provided internet comes through (I have no idea what would be involved or what my alternatives would be).

I've known for a long time because of some free "test your internet connection functionality" thing I ran years back that Earthlink pulled this sort of scuzzy trick where it would "redirect" some bad URL entries into an Earthlink-branded, revenue generating search page. It didn't seem quite a big enough deal to bother with sorting out though.

Recently though I started noticing it seemed like I was getting this page more often than usual, sometimes for links I knew had been up a few days or weeks ago. I started checking these sites via downforeveryone and in a lot of cases it was telling me the sites were up. This finally spurred me to go through that page above and follow its instructions to opt out and lo and behold, pages Earthlink was telling me a minute ago couldn't be connected to are up.

First question, how is this happening? I'm no internet expert but I can probably understand a fairly technical explanation. How is it that my previous configuration couldn't connect to these pages but by changing the DNS address my OS uses they are again available?

Second question, now that this is sorted, are there still compelling reasons to go to the trouble to removed earthlink from the equation? Are the general principles issues sufficient (I realize this is subjective but if you have particular perspective on it I'll listen to it). When I connected the internet Comcast gave me options and I selected one without much thought. As I recall it had no impact on the overall price. I never use the email or personal page Earthlink gives me. On the other hand they have been basically transparent and unobtrusive but this business makes me wonder if they have been screwing me more than I noticed. I do recall a short while ago I had an internet outage of half a day or so and the Comcast line was basically this is an Earthlink problem, it will be sorted out as soon as possible, and no we don't want to talk to you any more about it.
posted by nanojath to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
what my alternatives would be

(For what it's worth, wow digital cable intermittently won't let me do a google search and sends me to their own search page. Using a 4G tether, google was obviously up. I don't know the technical vocabulary for what is happening, but it seems incredibly shady to me too. And absolutely infuriating.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:40 AM on December 17, 2011

Humans do better with words like, while computers use numbers like The process that does this translation from names to numbers is called the Domain Name System, or DNS. Your computer has some servers defined in it that assist it in doing this translation. When you type in that you want to go to, the first thing your computer does is ask the DNS servers "what's the number version of", and that server responds with the number. This is called name or address resolution.
When you have Earthlink set up using their toolbar or as a client of theirs they have their DNS servers as the ones set up in your computer to answer this query. So when your computer asks of them "what is the address of" they return the address of their own server that serves up a page saying "hey, you mistyped something, so here's this fabulous advertising!". Apparently this system doesn't work very well so sometimes when you ask for a resolution of something that is actually valid they just hand back the IP address for that server of theirs.
Changing your DNS stops this from happening since your computer is no longer using the broken DNS servers but ones that don't have this feature enabled.
To answer your second question, it's not clear to me what service Earthlink is providing you. If all they give you is a toolbar, broken DNS, and email or web services that you don't use, then it doesn't make much sense to use them. You can get DNS service from Google or OpenDNS that'll probably work better.
posted by Runes at 9:41 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the OP Has EarthLink for his ISP - so it isn't just providing a toolbar and some broken DNS.

It may very well be worthwhile to consider changing ISPs, if you find another option you prefer, especially since you aren't using any special features at EarthLink.
posted by hilaryjade at 11:32 AM on December 17, 2011

Good to have insight on what DNS is actually about, and yeah, this reinforces what is probably basically a no brainer: I know they are screwing up some things, they could be screwing up other things I don't know about, and I've been avoiding dealing with it out of laziness. Time to start looking at my options in jettisoning them as my ISP.
posted by nanojath at 5:13 PM on December 17, 2011

Was reading this PC World article yesterday which you may find useful.
posted by scooterdog at 5:41 AM on December 18, 2011

Other ISPs have adopted this practice, and it really needs to be nipped in the bud. Though there are currently technical workarounds, such as using different DNS servers, many people may not even realize they are being misdirected, and most people don't have the inclination to do something about it.

This is a little outside the scope of answering the question directly, but this is an important issue, so forgive me - I am trying hard not to rant. If you are interested, organizations like EFF and Common Cause have some perspective on this issue in particular.
posted by Xoebe at 12:05 AM on December 19, 2011

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