DSL Matchmaker, Make Me A Match...
July 30, 2008 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Right: trying to pick a DSL service is making my head swim. So I'm throwing my situation and my options up to the floor to help me sort through.

MY NEEDS: reliability first, followed by budget. I do NOT need to be that fast; the biggest thing I do online is email, updating facebook, and doing research for things I write; I will also within a month be doing freelance copyediting and proofreading and will need to be able to email stuff back and forth. I only download music, media, and etc. infrequently, and don't mind if it takes a long time (I was actually using dialup up until last year), and I don't do online games.

WHY I'M NOT GOING WITH A CABLE MODEM OPTION: I am restricted to Time Warner in my area. Time Warner is screwing up my TELEVISION service so bad I don't trust them any further than I could throw them.

THE DSL OPTIONS IN MY AREA: Speakeasy, Earthlink, Verizon, and AT&T. I already have an AT&T phone line, and I have my old Earthlink dialup account (which I currently access via "borrowing" from an unsecured wireless channel in my area).

SPECIAL CONCERNS: I've had problems connecting to Verizon DSL channels in the past -- I've tried connecting to friends' channels at their homes -- because Verizon often uses Westrell brand modems, and there is a known conflict between older Westrell modems and new Dell machines (and guess what I have? A Dell). I couldn't get an assurance from the national Verizon rep that they'd try to take that into account when they send me the equipment, and I'm afraid of getting stuck in a tech support hell trying to troubleshoot things when I'm setting up. But if AT&T sucks dingo kidneys and Verizon is the better option, I can suck it up. Earthlink may be cheapest as I already have an account and this would just upgrade, but I've heard bad things about their DSL. As for speakeasy, I'm baffled which service I need (T1 service? What on earth is that? Do I need it?)

MY TECHNICAL KNOWHOW: I'd say advanced beginner. I know how to open a file, what an Icon is, how to defragment my hard drive, how to find the Control panel, and I know that the CD-Rom drive is not a cup holder. But asking me questions like "can you tell me what your packet speed is" or "did you try to do a ping" will baffle me. (I do know what a ping is, but not how to accomplish it.)

So. Thoughts?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I vote Speakeasy, but you can also check for reviews specific to your area by going to the Find Service section of DSLReports.com.

T1 Is business level service. You don't need that. You just need Home / Home Office DSL.
posted by sharkfu at 7:22 AM on July 30, 2008

AT&Ts service starts at like 24.99 a month. Just get that package. Youre overthinking this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:22 AM on July 30, 2008

Speakeasy is great and the service is very good, but it is not the cheapest. I use Speakeasy myself, but if I just needed access to email and text searches, etc., I'd go with the cheapest service I could. Something like the AT&T service sounds more appropriate, although I'm not recommending them.
posted by qwip at 7:43 AM on July 30, 2008

Damn Dirty Ape: I don't think asking whether AT&T is good or bad is "overthinking" the situation, personally...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:12 AM on July 30, 2008

Is DSL better in general now than it was 3 or 4 years ago? Because I remember then trying every service available to me, and every single one was horrible, with random drop outs ALL THE TIME, and difficulty connecting, poor customer service all around. I have TimeWarner Cable TV and internet, and I have had very few problems with it, and it is MUCH more reliable than DSL ever was (back when I tried it). Definitely worth the extra couple bucks for it, too. And don't underestimate the pleasure of speedy downloads! That being said, I can't wait til Verizon rolls out the FIOS in my area. (You'd think it'd be pretty readily available in NYC, but alas, it's not). Caveat: I sometimes play PS3 online, so I do use/need the speed and reliability of cable. And I do not work for TimeWarner, and they're not the best, just better than any DSL I've ever experienced.
posted by Grither at 8:35 AM on July 30, 2008

As qwip mentioned, Speakeasy isn't the cheapest but they had fantastic customer service and technical support when I was a subscriber a few years back. Depending on how you value your time, the higher monthly cost could easily be overcome by speedy resolution of any issues.

One other thing to mention is that they were acquired by Best Buy last year so you may want to check recent reviews to verify that their emphasis on customer service has survived.
posted by harmfulray at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2008

I think its 100% impossible to say what broadband provider is "good or bad." Ive had different levels of service from same companies. Its a total crapshoot. Perhaps someone more familiar with your area can have some specifics but then its anecdotal at best.

I get rock solid connections in Chicago. My neighbor down the street might not.

I just go with the cheapest option. I use them for a month and if I like it I dont cancel it. its not rocket science.

Really youre overthinking this. Strangers on the internet arent going to be famiiar with the quality of your line to CO, local issues, and your personal frustration tolerance.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2008

That said, sharfu's advice is the best in the thread. Ask at dslreports.com if you want a whole lot of anecdotes.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2008

I used to work for Speakeasy and totally agree that they have much better service -- as in they understand how DSL works and are good at troubleshooting -- than the competition. They are not the cheapest, so there's a real balance there.

That said, I dealt with "tech support hell" of a sort when getting a friend's Verizon (westell) modem set up with Verizon and it was actually totally fine. They are very very motivated to get you up and running, as opposed to dealing with outages. I often sugest people go with their telco for DSL, even though I have liked Speakeasy in the past, because it's one less extra bill and they know more about your line (sometimes) than other companies and their prices are rock bottom (I pay $17.99 for 768/128 speed DSL which is not fast but I was concerned with price, my friend who I set up in another town is pating $34/mo for 3Mbit/??? which is a good price imo).

At some level at any of these companies you are going to be a cog in a giant machine and things are likely to go wrong with any of them just due to law of averages. I have Verizon DSL and my DSL almost never goes out [maybe once or twice in the last few years, only once for more than 30 minutes]. I'd say the balance is figuring out whether you care more about good customer service or if a lower price is worth dealing with worse service.

As an aside, any customer service person, once you tell them your level of knowledge, should be able to talk you through anything you need them for, especially if you have a newer computer. If they can't, they are not doing their job well. Your job is to keep from hollering at them while they try to fix a problem that they didn't personally cause. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Speakeasy. I've used them for almost 10 years now, and I think service has gone out maybe once. Their purchase by Best Buy a couple years ago has had no apparent effect on their operations, customer service wise.
posted by TDIpod at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2008

Is DSL better in general now than it was 3 or 4 years ago?

DSL as a technology is and has always been just fine. It's the implementations, load and service that varies widely, especially since it's so sensitive to line quality. That means it can vary a lot between two companies or even between adjacent buildings.

It's not anything in the nature of DSL that makes it good or bad. There's great DSL from some providers in some places, and horrible DSL from others.
posted by rokusan at 9:30 AM on July 30, 2008

Another satisfied Speakeasy customer here. I've been using them for about 8 years, and can't remember having any problems.
posted by pombe at 9:50 AM on July 30, 2008

Oh yeah, forgot to answer hte question: Verizon's DSL has been fine for me.
posted by rokusan at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2008

Speakeasy, many years, two locations. Still recommended -- esp. if you intend to run a server out to the world.
posted by eriko at 11:11 AM on July 30, 2008

"esp. if you intend to run a server out to the world."

And here's where my computer knowledge lack comes in: what does "run a server out to the world" mean?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on July 30, 2008

It means that if you have a computer at home that you are hosting web pages from live in the Internet -- and you would KNOW if you were doing this, this is not the same as having a web site that lives on Dreamhost or blogspot or someone else's server -- then Speakeasy is a good company to go with because they understand what that means and it's not against their rules. I am 99% sure that you are not doing this, but it's good advice for other people who might be considering Speakeasy for DSL.
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on July 30, 2008

I've had pretty good experiences with Speakeasy, but as a third party company they may not have as much access to the lines that your telco has. I've had to have them rebuild the circuit a couple times when my connection was being flaky and they had to call Qwest on my behalf, which took about a day each time. But after dealing with Qwest's fuckups (multiple modems shipped to me, repeated calls to send mailing labels ignored, dropouts every 20 minutes in a new building with good wiring) as a former DSL customer, I can't ever go back to them.
posted by calistasm at 12:31 PM on July 30, 2008

I've been using Speakeasy for 8+ years, and I've only had to call tech support three times, two of which were my error. I've moved once, and transitioned to a 'naked' DSL line (no phone service required on the line), so that I no longer have to give AT&T any more of my money. I had a lot of experience when I worked in IT with getting DSL for clients, and Speakeasy was the best after Megapath (which only sells expensive business class DSL). I can't stress how great they've been as a company, and how competent their tech support is. That said, they are fairly pricey, and there are other options on DSLReports. Also, a lot of your customer experience is going to relate to the quality of the line you have to your local phone company, and will be outside of the control of most DSL providers.

One thing that I got with Speakeasy that was nice is 15 hours a month of dial-up, which is nice when travelling, or if there is ever a network outage (my line has been down for about 3 hours total in ~8 years)
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:54 AM on July 31, 2008

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