I also use Earthlink. No, I don't believe they're tied with AOL. At one time, CompuServ and it's small subsidiary Sprynet were purchased by AOL. But Sprynet was set up as a reaction to AOL, for people who didn't want all of the AOL nonsense. They sold us (I still have a sprynet address) to Mindspring, out of Georgia. Several years ago Mindspring (which is where much of Earthlink's innovative spam-blocking software comes from) and Earthlink merged.
It was agonizing at times to be moved around from one server to another, but as GUIs became easier to use, the latest shifts have been more or less seamless. I live close to a Southwestern Bell node, but I use Earthlink. It in turn actually contracts with Covad to provide the DSL service. Covad provides service to several DSL providers, Southwestern Bell included, I think. I am happy with my service, they've replaced a modem for me when an earlier one didn't work, and were helpful in arranging the filters so I don't have to filter all of my phones. (I have a dedicated filtered DSL line in my office while the rest of the house gets phone service on that same line). The only time I encountered a problem was when I was setting up my own wireless network in the house and couldn't get a connection. I called Earthlink and the tech pooh-poohed my questions. I'm sure they'd prefer to give me the equipment and charge me $10 a month for infinity to have them set up my wireless network. I complained about this next time they asked about my customer service, but that was the end of it. I think it's a losing proposition for them to try to offer wireless when you can buy the system (modem and reciever card) for under $100 one time cost.
Earthlink costs a bit more than some others, about $50 a month. But if you read the small print, those that cost less now are offering special low rates for the first few months or year. Then it goes up to around what Earthlink charges. I figure for the hastle of switching all of my accounts and email it isn't worth trying to save a few dollars in the short term.