Which nationwide dial-up ISP has the best coverage / most access numbers?
August 13, 2004 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Which nationwide dial-up ISP has the best coverage / most access numbers? I’m heading on a trip across the northern half of America and back through the south, and I need internet access for my laptop. SBC has quite a few. What are some other choices?
posted by letitrain to Shopping (16 answers total)
I use cyberhotline out of LA for my work connection. I am in Portland and it has quite a few, including finding one on the road whenever I need to.
posted by karmaville at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2004

This doesn't really answer your question -- but the best success I've had with the kind of situation you describe is by using my PowerBook with built-in Bluetooth, a Bluetooth cell phone (the T68i) and T-Mobile's unlimited GRPS data service. It cost me $40 a month ($20 for the phone, $20 for the GRPS) and worked everywhere I went, even in the car.

It's worth a shot if you have a Bluetooth-equipped laptop and aren't tied into another carrier.
posted by josh at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2004

Response by poster: I have T-Mobile, but my laptop (Apple iBook G4) doesn't have Bluetooth, and neither does my cell phone (Motorola V300). I've thought about adding bluetooth and buying a new cell phone, but it seems like a hassle, especially since I just bought the phone. It sounds like a really slick system, though.
posted by letitrain at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2004

Response by poster: Now I'm wondering if I can buy a USB cable for the Motorola V300 and use it as a modem?
posted by letitrain at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2004

as much as i hate saying it, aol is actually available almost everywhere across the states. however, for our sales guys, we have earthlink which has had numbers for everywhere they have been. i am pretty sure that you can set up a program from earthlink that will dial out and find phone numbers for you for a certain area, like aol, but i just get numbers before people leave and preprogram them. i am not big on installing internet applications, especially aol, on the computers. i much prefer just using windows/os x's built in dial up networking.
posted by chrisroberts at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2004

Juno claims to have free internet access for up to 10 hours per month. If you just need to check email and do not want extending surfing or MeFi sessions this might work and you won't have to pay for a new Internet account. I used them once long ago and they were fine. I have no idea how well their free service works or what Juno is like these days. After you get back, run SpyBot and AdAware (or whatever is appropriate in the Apple world) to clean out the inevitable adware that will come with free Internet access.
posted by caddis at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2004

Response by poster: AOL and Juno require installing proprietary software, and I'd like to avoid that if possible. I'm looking for a list of access numbers and a username/password. Price is not a big deal, except I need to be able to cancel it after a couple of months (no contracts). I'll check out AT&T and Earthlink now...

Josh got me thinking of how convenient it would be to have access anywhere I have a cell signal. I'd like to figure out a way to do that. Has anyone used a GPRS cell phone connection over a USB cable?
posted by letitrain at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2004

More than likely Earthlink has the most 56k lines available.
posted by the fire you left me at 11:51 AM on August 13, 2004

At work, we use at&t. It's worked for us all accross US and Canada, in Taiwan, South Korea, much of South America. It's not cheap, but it is reliable.
posted by bonehead at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2004

I've used a GPRS cell phone connection over infrared. It's not too peppy, but it's tolerable. It's like a 56k connection, but a lot laggier. A good place to search for howtos/guides/etc for tethering your phone is Howard Forums. I found out how to get the infrared/IRDA connection working there.
posted by zsazsa at 12:07 PM on August 13, 2004

I used to work for Earthlink, and they do indeed have numbers pretty much everywhere. I once got a call from a guy in rural Kentucky, where the phone company had just brought a line into his area for the first time. We had a local number for him. Like most nationwide ISPs (including AOL), Earthlink leases lines from backbone providers--if I recall correctly and they haven't changed things too much (it's been a few years since I worked there), they lease from Sprint, Level 3, AT&T, and UUNET (now owned by MCI). Earthlink also has a few of its own dialups in Southern California. If you're shopping around for an ISP and dialups in remote areas are a priority, try to find one with as many backbone providers as possible. Also, UUNET was always the most reliable backbone provider we worked with by far, and in rural areas they were often the only numbers available. If at all possible, I recommend trying to find an ISP that does lease from MCI/UUNET. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get this information from the company itself; a Google search will help more than a sales droid.

I have my issues with Earthlink (like the fact that they moved all their tech call centers to India), but for your purposes they may be the best bet. Like AOL and Juno, they do have their own proprietary software, but you don't have to use it. You can just get the necessary settings--dialup numbers and DNS addresses, basically--and set it up manually.

Disclaimer: I haven't been an Earthlink customer for several years, since I switched to broadband before they offered it in my area (and while I was still working there). My father got an account while I was there, though, and is still with them, and hasn't reported any problems.

Silly geek anecdote: I was on one of the first tech teams in the company to support Earthlink's first attempt at an AOL-style all-in-one software package, Earthlink 5.0. We were watching a training video featuring the company mascot, Blinky the robot, connecting to the internet on his laptop from the moon. The familiar modem noises were heard, with none of the repeated beeping noises that indicate the modem is downshifting to a slower connection. A tech in the back of the room yelled out, "That's gotta be a UUNET POP."
posted by Acetylene at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2004

A related question: I have a new Sony VAIO notebook equipped with both WiFi and Bluetooth, and I'm going on a similar trip across the country (the south). I'm set with the WiFi, but have no clue with Bluetooth.

Is it worth looking into setting up Bluetooth for the car ride, like Josh describes? I'm worried about not having WiFi access consistently. I have a Sanyo phone with Sprint service -- is there a good Bluetooth primer that will describe how to set myself up? Many thanks in advance.
posted by jeffmshaw at 2:13 PM on August 13, 2004

Earthlink has won hands down on this every time. For the only exception I have ever found to their coverage (Nauvoo Illinois), none of the other big carriers worked either (so I ended up calling the local mom & pop ISP and working out a deal with them for a week.

Still, they're pricey for dial-up.

I have a Sanyo phone with Sprint service -- is there a good Bluetooth primer that will describe how to set myself up? Many thanks in advance.

jeffmshaw: I don't know about Bluetooth, but a year ago, for most Sanyo/Sprint phones, you could walk into Radio Shack and buy a usb-cable/software combo that would get you on for $30. Though I just bought the cable and followed some instructions I found on the net for Mac OS X (since I have a powerbook). It's all about getting the modem script.

If the sprint stuff hadn't been $60-$80/month, and if the phone hadn't heated up to where (RF energy or just plain heat) I thought I was cooking my head over-easy whenever I talked for 10 minutes, I would still be using it today. Best/broadest wireless net experience I've had.
posted by weston at 2:50 PM on August 13, 2004


Also, T-Mobile's GPRS services is sortof slow.
posted by namespan at 3:34 PM on August 13, 2004

Best answer: I'll echo what's been said about EarthLink... and I'll also let you in on what they don't tell new customers: there's a $9.95 for 10 hours a month plan that you can downgrade to. Go over 10 hours and there's a small per hour charge... but it maxes out at the unlimited price. I switched to it when we got broadband because I wanted dial-up available and spam filtering.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:25 PM on August 13, 2004

Just avoid EarthLink's software like the plague. You don't need to use it, and it will change things on you.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:27 PM on August 13, 2004

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