Getting around earthlink's "Home Networking" fee?
July 27, 2006 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Earthlink charges me 10$ a month extra to use more than one computer on my connection, on top of the 42$ a month I normally pay. I don't want to pay this.

I'm not entirely sure how they know, I assume they know what MAC addresses I am using because each time I want to add/change a computer I have to call them before the internet works.

Surely there is a way around this, for them to think I'm just one computer? I heard something about copying my computer's MAC address to the router's, but I tried that and it didn't work. I would probably have to call them, I guess, but I'm afraid to do that until I know it would work.

Does anyone have experience with this sort of thing? Thanks.
posted by illegiblemess to Technology (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get a router. Earthlink'll see one MAC address.
posted by orthogonality at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2006

Are they giving you more than one IP address for that extra $10? If so, yeah, you should be able to get it working by cloning the MAC address of one of your computers to the router. If you can't get that going, it's probably not a problem on Earthlink's end.

You could always call 'em up and tell them you want to add a new "computer" and give them the router's MAC, if cloning doesn't work. Then have them take off the other MACs so you just have the one.
posted by kindall at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2006

Yes, really simple. You are swapping the active connection to different computers because they're directly connected. Just get a router/firewall!

It's a question of getting a router- a simple WRGT54 from Linksys runs about $60, and you can get cheaper ones. They present their own MAC to the ISP, and thus that's the only one you have- all you have to do is give that router's MAC to the ISP, and from then on you can connect all the computers you want behind the router, at the same time. Some routers support cloning the existing MAC so they can "spoof" your desktop computer, and keep your ISP in the dark about how many computers you're using- but you shouldn't need to do this, just give them one last MAC, that of the router, and you'll never have to touch it again.

If you already have an existing router, the setup on those routers is quite easy; I've found to be a really good site for "newbies" to learn how to set up the various types of routers on the market, and then for setting up a lot of common P2P and internet apps behind a firewall.
posted by hincandenza at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2006

How about a router?

If you're using a Mac, I can tell you this is dead easy even without a router. I'm sharing a dial-up connection just by starting internet sharing in the Sharing Preferences.

I'm sure Windows does it, too, but I can't tell you how.
posted by evil holiday magic at 8:01 PM on July 27, 2006

posted by evil holiday magic at 8:02 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry - I already have a Linksys router. They probably know that mac address is my router's mac address? Would getting a new one help?
posted by illegiblemess at 8:05 PM on July 27, 2006

illegiblemess: if you already have a linksys, I think you should be good to go. The only way they could block you at that point is if they've set up something to deny adding any MACs that start with XXXX (whatever is common to Linksys).

However, at least on the one I have (WRT54GS, I misquoted earlier) there's a "MAC Cloning" page where you can either manually enter your PC's MAC address, or tell it to just "clone" it automatically. Once you do that, the ISP can't really block you- you just need to make sure your router is set up correctly for routing/firewalling... and that may be where you're going wrong.

Give us more details on how it "doesn't work" when you clone your PC's MAC address on the router?
posted by hincandenza at 8:12 PM on July 27, 2006

You can set your router's MAC to whatever you want using the built in tools, just change a few of the least significant digits.
posted by Mitheral at 8:12 PM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: hincandenza - I clone the mac address on the router and restart it. then I suddenly am no longer able to connect to the internet. I'm wondering if they have my router's MAC address on file and won't let anything else connect? In which case I'd have to call them and tell them that my computer is directly connected and I'm no longer using a router, I guess?
posted by illegiblemess at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2006

Seems to me like threatening to cancel and go with another provider would convince EL to waive the fee. I use EL broadband with at least 10 devices behind my router, but I'd drop them like a hot potato if they tacked a fee like that onto my bill.
posted by excoriator at 8:54 PM on July 27, 2006

you can spoof the mac of your machine.. just give both machines the same MAC.. there are tools online available
posted by yevge at 9:01 PM on July 27, 2006

Wait, you already have a router and your machines are connected through it?

Then you shouldn't need the extra $10 a month to begin with.
posted by kindall at 9:04 PM on July 27, 2006

I don't know if Earthlink does this, but it is possible to sniff out individual MAC addresses behind a NAT router. Don't have the details of this at my finger tips, but I did some research into this a few years ago as a cookie replacement for tracking customers. Turns out it's easier to embed flash objects. But that's a whole different story.

A quick read on their website does not indicate anything about a per computer fee for DSL or for cable customers. Furthermore, they offer a home networking option for only $7.95 per month that supports multiple computers with no indication of a per computer fee.

Your best bet is to make a phone call or two to Earthlink to straighten this out. You may be under contract (DSL) or on an old pricing plan (cable) that includes such archaic price structures. A simple phone call to switch plans might work. One thing to be aware of: many offers are for new customers only. Generally this means anyone who hasn't had service with them for 30 - 90 days.

If there are other providers in your area, get a quote before you call Earthlink. Knowing your options is healthy and is likely to motivate Earthlink to make a comparable offer.
posted by sequential at 9:15 PM on July 27, 2006

No one seems to have mentioned it yet, so I will: most cable and many DSL modems *will only talk to the first N MAC addresses they see on their ethernet after boot*, where N is the number of addresses you're paying for.

If you swap devices behind the modem, you have to powercycle it before it will talk again.

Bounce the modem, then plug the router into it, without cloning any address onto it (use its factory address); plug the computers into its switch; see how that works out.
posted by baylink at 9:35 PM on July 27, 2006

Best answer: Regarding the my original response, please ignore it. For whatever reason, I misunderstood the information in your question. If you're paying that $10, you already have Home Networking. Here's what that fee is for:

1) Subsidized hardware - you fund your own rebate, essentially.
2) Support.
3) Installation / network design.

From their site:
Why should I buy this from EarthLink instead of a retail store?

EarthLink can supply you with everything you need, including service, the HomePortal gateway, adapters, and support. Our Home Networking consultants will help you design the perfect network for your home, and our award-winning technical specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to make sure it works.
For the $139.95 you pay up front, refunded through a mail in rebate, you get a Linksys WRT54G and a Linksys USB Ethernet Adapter or some other form of wireless adapter.

If you have the service, you can cancel it, but you are likely to be charged a cancelation fee if you've had the service for under 12 months. In any case, it's cheaper to keep the service for the remainder of the contract than it is to cancel, unless you can convince them to waive the cancelation fee. (And you can do that, but that's a different question.)
posted by sequential at 9:54 PM on July 27, 2006

They're probably sniffing the DHCP packets, which have a distinctive signature on Windows v. Linux.

I've been meaning to create a router immune to this...
posted by effugas at 10:17 PM on July 27, 2006

Isn't this a bit unethical? What's wrong with paying the extra $10 a month?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:02 AM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: sequential, thanks for the research - not only does it look like they should be charging me less, it also looks like its optional (which, if were true, was never made clear). i've had it for over a year and should be able to just cancel it, hopefully.
posted by illegiblemess at 7:16 AM on July 28, 2006

Brandon: No, it's not unethical at all. It's more unethical for the ISP to say "you can't set up a home network without paying US for the privilege." There is technically no reason why they should be charging him/her the extra $10/mo, other than "they can." If they're hooking him up with the equipment and supporting his home LAN for $10/mo, that's another story.

This is usually a way that shady ISPs try to squeeze more money out of customers. The next step is that they'll likely try to upsell him to a business account where they "permit you to have a home LAN." It's crap, and has only been an issue since the dot com fallout.
Before that, I had no trouble getting multiple static IPs from @Home (for free) and they didn't care what services I ran. Now Comcast won't give static IPs to even their business customers.
posted by drstein at 12:50 PM on July 28, 2006

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