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.

ProviderTypeMin. speedUser ratingGet it
ViasatSatellite12 MbpsN/AView plans
HughesNetSatellite25 Mbps3.75/5View plans
AT&TFixed Wireless10 Mbps3.83/5View plans
WindstreamDSL15 MbpsN/AView plans
Verizon4G LTE25 Mbps3.96/5View plans

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.

Up to 10x faster than dial-up; Uses same cable for phone and internet

DSL

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.

Available almost everywhere; Slower speeds due to far traveling signal

Satellite

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.

Internet data transmitted using radio signals

Fixed wireless

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

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.

Delivers internet using cellular networks

4G LTE

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:

Rural Internet FAQ

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

There are also other government programs that can help you get cheap internet, as well as other tips and tricks that can get you cheap or free internet service.

 

 

Best internet for rural areas summary

Provider Type Min. speed User rating
AT&T Fixed wireless 10 Mbps 3.83/5
Viasat Satellite 12 Mbps N/A
Windstream DSL 25 Mbps N/A