Rural Internet Providers
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About rural internet
Like gas and electricity, the internet is essential to modern life, yet rural areas are often underserved due to the cost of building out network infrastructure like cables and broadcast towers. This can make it difficult to find the best high-speed broadband option for rural areas, so we’ve compiled all the best options for you.
Rural internet is also where some of the most exciting developments are happening in internet technology. From low-Earth orbit satellites to broadband internet over cell towers, cutting-edge technologies may transform rural internet over the next few years. Let’s take a look at what the best options for rural customers are now and what to look for in the future.
Best rural providers
Many nationwide providers offer internet solutions in rural areas. Here’s a list of some of the best high-speed internet options for rural areas.
|Provider||Type||Min. speed||User rating||Get it|
|Satellite||12 Mbps||N/A||View Plans|
|Satellite||25 Mbps||3.75/5||View Plans|
|Fixed Wireless||10 Mbps||3.83/5||View Plans|
|DSL||15 Mbps||N/A||View Plans|
|4G LTE||25 Mbps||3.96/5||View Plans|
|LEO Satellite||Up to 150*||N/A||More Info|
Data as of 1/10/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Starlink speed, pricing, data, and latency numbers are estimates based on current data as of 10/25/2020. Actual data may vary when Starlink service is officially launched.
Although most rural areas lack high-speed options like fiber and cable, there is a wide range of internet technologies available to rural customers. Each type works better in certain situations than others, making it even more important for people in rural areas to be internet savvy.
Many wireless technologies are used in urban areas, but people living in rural areas often have the most to gain from wireless internet connections. Satellite connections, like those provided by Viasat and HughesNet, are the most ubiquitous wireless technologies in rural areas because you can connect basically anywhere in North America—no infrastructure needed. Satellite is usually the slowest and most expensive option, but for those who live completely off the grid, it’s often the only option.
Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are a new technology that aims to overcome many of the technical hurdles that traditional satellite internet faces. By placing a constellation of tiny satellites in a low orbit, providers like Starlink promise faster speeds and lower latency than other satellite providers. Starlink is currently in beta, but plans to rollout nationwide soon.8
Verizon also provides internet service to rural areas using its 4G LTE network. These connections use the same cellular network Verizon uses for phone service. The difference is that 4G LTE home internet is designed to provide internet to an entire household, giving you a faster and more reliable connection than you might get by using your phone as a hotspot.
AT&T delivers wireless internet to rural customers using fixed-wireless connections. These connections are fast and reliable, but require a direct line of sight to a nearby transmitter. This means that availability is much more limited, but it’s a great choice if you can get it.
Although fiber and cable networks rarely extend into rural areas, you often can get a wired connection using DSL. Windstream offers DSL internet throughout the Eastern and Midwest United States. DSL is both faster and cheaper than technologies like satellite, making it a welcome option.
Rural internet service types
There are many different types of internet services that cover rural areas, and each has its pros and cons. Not all types are available in all areas, and internet service providers (ISPs) use different types of connections in different places. So the most you can do is find the service in your area that best meets your needs. Enter your zip code at the top of the page to find out what providers are available in your area.
The most important differences between internet types in rural areas are availability, cost, speed, and latency. Not all of these factors matter to everyone, so there is no single “best” option. The best rural internet is the plan fits your needs the closest.
DSL (digital subscriber line) internet uses copper phone lines to carry its signal just like dial-up internet, but DSL offers much faster speeds and more reliable connections than dial-up. DSL gives you up to ten times faster speeds than dial-up and doesn’t tie up the phone line when it’s in use. And because it uses existing phone lines, DSL is relatively cheap and extends farther into rural areas than any other type of wired network.
The downside of DSL is that it’s an older technology that’s already pushing the limits of what copper wires can do. Many companies are beginning to phase out their DSL networks while others, like AT&T, are no longer offering DSL plans to new customers.1 If your house is already wired for DSL, it might be what you need in a pinch, but we don’t recommend DSL as a long-term internet solution.
Satellite internet is the only internet option that’s available almost everywhere in the United States. This means that for many people who live in remote areas, satellite might be their only option for internet.
Satellite sends you an internet signal via a satellite in Earth orbit. It can offer reasonable download speeds but has the highest latency due to the distance the signal has to travel. Satellite plans also have more restrictive data caps and are much more expensive than other plans offering similar speeds.
While there are definite downsides to satellite internet, things could be changing with the introduction of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations like Starlink and OneWeb. Instead of having a single large satellite in a high, geosynchronous orbit that is always visible, these providers operate constellations of thousands of tiny satellites that zip around the earth in formation, ensuring that there’s always at least one visible above you. LEO satellites could provide lower latency, faster speeds, and lower costs, but these technologies are still in the early stages.2, 3 It remains to be seen if they will actually live up to the hype.
Fixed-wireless internet broadcasts a signal from a central tower to the surrounding community. It offers faster speeds and lower latency than many other wireless technologies. Fixed wireless is most common in larger communities and near urban areas, where it often fills in the gaps between other providers’ coverage areas. Many fixed wireless connections are offered by smaller, local ISPs, which allows you to support local businesses when choosing your internet provider.
Fixed wireless is less common than other technologies, but don’t forget about it when shopping for a new internet plan. Even if you don’t recognize the ISP, fixed wireless might be the upgrade you’re looking for if it’s in your area.
5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology, and it promises to be a huge leap forward from 4G. It will be up to ten times faster than 4G (and even faster compared to some 4G LTE connections), it will have low latency, and it will be able to handle huge amounts of internet traffic without slowing down. Unfortunately, the higher frequency signals that allow for these improvements are also much shorter range, which means there need to be far more 5G towers to broadcast a signal to the same area as one 4G tower.
Despite the inherent challenges with extending 5G infrastructure into rural areas, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made rural 5G a priority and set aside funding specifically for bringing this technology to rural areas.4 If successful, 5G would allow rural customers to enjoy the benefits of a connection on par with those in urban areas.
4G LTE internet uses the same cellular network that your phone uses to deliver an internet connection. The advantage of this technology is that phone companies have already built out nationwide 4G infrastructure, so if you can get cell reception, you can get internet service. This makes it a good alternative to satellite internet in rural areas.
You can connect devices to the internet using your phone as a hotspot or by buying a dedicated mobile hotspot. Many ISPs—like Verizon—are also offering 4G LTE home internet, which uses a more traditional router. Although you can’t take it with you wherever you go, 4G LTE home internet plans are generally cheaper and offer higher data caps (or unlimited data), which makes them better suited to the needs of a whole household.
Rural internet service: Buying guide
ISPs vary by region. When you’re looking for rural high-speed internet providers near you, the fastest way to find your options is by checking our database. To find what’s in your area, enter your zip code in our tool below.
Find internet providers in your community:
Finding competitive rural providers
One of the challenges of finding an ISP in rural areas is that there is a distinct lack of competition among broadband providers. Many ISPs engage in anticompetitive practices that allow them to inflate prices instead of following market demand. For rural customers, this means higher prices and lower speeds than you’d find in more urban areas of the country.
In an attempt to address this problem, the White House issued an executive order in July 2021 instructing the FCC to prevent ISPs from engaging in some of these anticompetitive practices, such as colluding with landlords to force tenants into contracts with specific providers. The order also aims to make pricing more transparent, to limit excessive early termination fees, and to restore net neutrality.7 If implemented by the FCC, these measures could make it easier for people in rural communities to find more affordable, good internet options.
How much of the rural US has access to high-speed internet?
According to a 2019 report by the FCC, only 73% of rural Americans and 67% of Americans living on tribal lands have access to internet download speeds of 25 Mbps or higher.5 By contrast, 98% of urban Americans have access to those same speeds.
What options are there for rural wireless?
Mobile wireless providers offer internet plans that use existing cellular networks, like Verizon and AT&T’s 4G networks. There are also smaller providers like UbiFi that use space on these networks to offer their own plans.
Why is it difficult to get internet in rural areas?
Creating infrastructure like laying cables and building towers is an expensive process. Since rural areas have lower population densities and greater distances to cover, ISPs get a much lower return on investment than they get in dense urban areas. Since there isn’t enough competition among ISPs, there’s often no motivation to expand into underserved areas.
Some communities have addressed this problem by creating their own municipal broadband. These providers work as public utilities, providing faster speeds than even those available in the largest cities and at a fraction of the price for customers.
Can people in rural areas get assistance on their internet bills?
There are several government programs that make internet more affordable and accessible, including for people in rural areas. You can find out more in our in-depth analysis of government assistance programs for internet access.
Additionally, millions of qualified households can save on their monthly internet bills through the FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) helps low-income families afford an internet connection by subsidising the cost of their internet bill. The ACP provides $30 per month toward a household’s internet bill, though households on Tribal land or high-cost areas might be eligible for enhanced support of up to $75 per month.9 To qualify, someone in your household must be enrolled in certain social programs (Lifeline, SNAP, WIC, National School Lunch Program, and others)—or you can qualify based on your income. This program replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was instituted in 2021 to help those dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACP goes into effect December 31, 2021. Following that, there will be a 60-day transition period where those who currently qualify for the EBB program can continue to receive those benefits.9
How can I do online learning in rural areas?
You can find resources to make online learning in rural areas on our internet for students page. Also, AT&T recently committed $10 million to support education in underserved communities.6 The company pledged to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and free internet service to struggling students. AT&T has not yet released information on how to sign up for these hotspots.
How many satellite internet providers are there?
There are currently two major satellite internet providers: HughesNet and Viasat. Although these two companies have split the satellite market for years, many new companies are now entering the scene. These include Telesat, Starlink (funded by SpaceX), LeoSat, Project Kuiper (owned by Amazon), and OneWeb (funded by Tokyo-based SoftBank Group). For more information, check out our article on the best satellite internet providers.
Can I find DSL internet where I live?
Many major DSL providers are phasing out their DSL networks in favor of faster, more reliable technologies like fiber and 5G. This is good news for areas that already have access to these faster networks, but less so for areas where these technologies are a long way off. AT&T has already stopped taking on new DSL customers, leaving new residents to DSL-only areas without any options for wired broadband.1
We highly suggest going with other kinds of wired internet if they are available in your area, though if DSL is the only option in your area, it’s usually cheaper and sometimes also faster than satellite internet. If DSL is unavailable, 4G LTE home internet is another widely available type of connection that is also generally cheaper than satellite internet. Check out what kinds of connections are available in your area to compare providers.
How can I find fixed-wireless internet where I live?
Some widely known ISPs like AT&T, Rise Broadband and Windstream offer fixed-wireless and may survey your area to see if it’s suitable to expand into. There are also many local independent fixed-wireless internet providers already available that can provide internet service in your area.
Aside from DSL, satellite, and fixed-wireless internet, are there any other ways to get rural broadband?
Mobile hotspots are another option to get rural broadband in some rural areas. These small gadgets convert a 4G LTE connection into a Wi-Fi signal for your home. If you don’t get cell phone service, it won’t work. But if you do have cell service, consider purchasing a mobile hotspot and data plan.
Providers like Verizon have been heavily investing in their 4G LTE home internet, improving their coverage and the consistency of their connections. Verizon has also improved its equipment over several generations of hardware, making it easier for new customers to set up their own internet without needing professional installation.
How can I save on rural internet?
The Lifeline program helps low-income consumers afford telecommunication services, including internet, with a subsidized monthly price. To see if you qualify, enter your zip code below, find a provider in your area, and ask a customer service representative about your discount options.
Best internet for rural areas summary
|AT&T||Fixed wireless||10 Mbps|
1. Rob Pegoraro, USA Today, “AT&T shelving DSL may leave hundreds of thousands hanging by a phone line” October 3, 2020. Accessed January 10, 2021.
2. Michael Sheetz, CNBC, “SpaceX Prices Starlink Satellite Internet Service at $99 per Month, According to E-mail,” October 27, 2020. Accessed January 10, 2021.
3. Kate Duffy, Business Insider, “Spacex’s Starlink Internet Speeds Are Consistently Topping 150 Mbps — Now Elon Musk Says the Biggest Challenge Is Slashing the $600 Up-front Cost for Users” November 4, 2020. Accessed January 10, 2021.
4. Federal Communications Commission, “5G Fund” November 24, 2020. Accessed January 10, 2021.
5. Federal Communications Commission, “2019 Broadband Deployment Report” May 8, 2019. Accessed January 10, 2021.
6. AT&T, “Enabling Connected Learning with Discounted Wireless Data Plans and Free Wi-Fi Hotspots” November 12, 2020. Accessed November 13, 2020.
7. The White House, “FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” July 9, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.
8. Aubrey Clarke, The Science Times, “Elon Musk: Starlink Will Roll Out in the U.S. Soon; Should People Register to the Internet Service?” October 8, 2021. Accessed October 25 2021.
9. Federal Communication Commission, “Wireline Competition Bureau Seeks Comment on the Implementation of the Affordable Connectivity Program,” November 18, 2021. Accessed November 30, 2021.