Speed Reads

The dream of the '90s is alive...

AOL's dial-up plan is actually a pretty good deal

Unless you pay attention to quarterly earnings reports of one-time tech titans, you probably missed the news last week that AOL beat Wall Street expectations in the most recent quarter, and is (more or less) profitable. And not just AOL — a company that also owns The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Moviefone — but AOL's subscription service. In the last quarter, 2.34 million people subscribed to AOL.

The tech world found that amusing — and in a way, it is. It means 2.34 million people in the United States pay for unlimited dial-up internet. But Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight didn't only laugh — he also decided to go look at what else AOL offers its subscribers. Read his post for all the terrific details, but let's focus just on the basic plan, which costs all of $4.99 a month (or $59.88 a year, Hickey notes — roughly the monthly fee for broadband internet).

Like many internet users, I can't imagine going back to hearing this sound every time I wanted to connect to the internet, slowly. But $5 a month? Here's what that will buy you, along with unlimited dial-up: AARP membership, 10 percent off your Sprint cellphone bill, an 8 percent kickback at Priceline.com, antivirus software and a handful of web services, tech support, and free legal help writing or updating your will with Hyatt Legal Plans attorneys.

The range of services — especially the AARP membership and will-preparation services — give you a big clue as to who AOL's target audience is. But that's actually a lot of bang for your five bucks. And the one Hickey doesn't talk about is probably the most valuable: Preparing your last will and testament, gratis. If a sense of responsibility isn't enough to get you to complete the distasteful task of making a will, here's what Hyatt Legal Plans estimates you'd pay them for the help: $580 for you and your spouse. That's almost 10 years of AOL dial-up. Who's the sucker now?