Rural Internet Providers
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Like access to utilities like water and electricity, internet access is essential to modern life. Despite the internet’s importance for work, entertainment, and civic engagement, 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.
About rural internet
Internet access is a huge determinant of wealth and quality of life in the U.S., yet rural communities often have the fewest options because internet service providers (ISPs) have less incentive to build out expensive networks in areas with low population density. Fiber and cable networks often don’t extend into rural areas, leaving only DSL or wireless options.
On the other hand, some of the most exciting developments in internet technology are happening in the rural internet space. From low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to multi-transport wireless connections, new technologies may transform rural internet over the next few years. Additionally, many government programs are targeting infrastructure for rural broadband, bringing the benefits of the internet to underserved areas.
Popular rural internet providers
|GSO Satellite||12–100Mbps||$69.99–$299.99/mo.*||View Plans|
|GSO Satellite||25–50Mbps||$25.00–$65.00/mo.†||View Plans|
|LEO Satellite||5–100Mbps||$120.00–$200.00/mo.‡||View Plans|
|Fixed wireless||25–50Mbps||$25.00–$65.00/mo.||View Plans|
|Fixed Wireless||Up to 25Mbps||$59.99/mo.§|
|4G/5G home||72–245Mbps||$50.00/mo.║||View Plans|
|4G/5G home||Up to 1,000Mbps||$25.00–$80.00/mo.#||View Plans|
|DSL||Up to 100Mbps||$65.00/mo.**||View Plans|
Wired connections like fiber and cable are generally the fastest, most reliable, and most cost-efficient ways of getting internet. Although they’re mostly found in more urban areas, internet providers are steadily expanding the reach of these networks into less populated parts of the country. Regardless, there are still many areas that don’t have these options and must make due with other internet technologies. Each of these technologies works better in certain situations than others, making it important for people in rural areas to be internet savvy.
Although fiber and cable networks rarely extend into rural areas, you often can still 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.
Wireless connections are the most common way to connect people in areas that lack infrastructure. Satellite connections, like those provided by Viasat and HughesNet, are the most ubiquitous wireless technologies because they allow you to basically connect from anywhere in the country.
Satellite has a few big downsides, such as high cost, low download speeds, and high latency. Low-Earth orbit satellites aim 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 providers’ satellite-only plans.
During its extended beta testing period, Starlink boasted impressive speeds, but it has steadily revised those speeds down as strain on the network has caused more congestion. Speeds will likely continue to change as new satellites are launched, as old ones deorbit, and as the number of people using the service increases. The company also runs Starlink Roam, which makes its satellite system portable, though at an increased monthly cost and reduced speed.
HughesNet’s solution for the common satellite internet latency issue is its new HughesNet Fusion plans. HughesNet Fusion combines satellite and fixed wireless connections to offer a more reliable connection with lower latency. With some additional equipment, it routes your connection over either satellite or wireless, giving you lower latency when you need it, though other issues associated with satellite internet, such as low speeds and data caps, could still be an issue.
Cellular technologies are another valuable technology for connecting rural communities. Verizon and T-Mobile provide internet service to rural areas using their 4G LTE and 5G networks. These connections use the same cellular networks they use for phone service. The difference is that 4G LTE and 5G 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.
Some providers deliver 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.
Improving rural connectivity
Finding an ISP in rural areas is especially challenging due to the distinct lack of competition among broadband providers. Over the years, many ISPs have engaged in anticompetitive practices that allow them to inflate prices instead of following market demand. This has meant higher prices and lower speeds for rural customers in underserved areas where there are even fewer options than you’d find in more urban areas of the country.
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. If implemented by the FCC, these measures could make it easier for people in rural communities to find more affordable, good internet options.
The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill also increased available funding for rural broadband. This included $1.15 billion in loans and grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifically for helping people in rural areas get access to high-speed internet.
These programs will certainly make higher speeds available in rural areas, but it’s equally important to establish competition among providers to ensure that rural Americans have connections that are both fast and affordable.
Popular rural internet providers
Data effective 8/31/2023. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Prices and availability vary by location. Installation fees, monthly equipment lease fees, and taxes may apply. After 60 GB of High-Speed Data usage, you still have unlimited access to Standard Data, which may result in slower speed.
†Pricing for the first 6 months. Service plans require a 24-month commitment. Pricing not available in all areas.
‡Plus hardware, shipping & handling fees, and tax. Fully refundable. Depending on location, some orders may take 2 weeks or more to fulfill.
§Plus taxes when bundled w/ qualifying AT&T wireless svc. Incl 350GB data/mo., overage chrgs apply. Ltd. avail/areas in U.S.
║w/ Auto Pay. Regulatory fees included in monthly price for qualified accounts. See full terms.
#w/ Auto Pay and select 5G mobile plans. Available in select areas.
**With Auto Pay for 12 months.