HSO Guide to Rural Internet Options

graphic of home with satellite dish

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While living in the country might be slower-paced than in the city, that doesn’t mean your internet service has to be, too. Finding and comparing rural internet options can be difficult, but not impossible.

If you’re looking for rural internet options that can support your streaming apps and home office, this guide is for you. We break down various aspects of rural internet including the different internet connection types available, the top rural internet providers, features to look out for, and what the future holds for rural internet as a whole.

Top Rural Internet Providers

Put dial-up out to pasture with these fast rural internet providers offering high-speed plans that won’t break the bank. Below we list top ISPs and their best deals to help you gauge what’s out there.

Rural ProviderStarting Price*Download Speed Up To*Type
FrontierLess than $50/mo.**Varies by locationDSL
HughesNet$59.99/mo.25 MbpsSatellite
Viasat $69.99/mo.100 MbpsSatellite
AT&T$45.00/mo.100 MbpsDSL
Rise Broadband$35.00/mo.25 MbpsFixed-Wireless
Windstream$37.00/mo.100 MbpsDSL
*Prices and plans vary by location, do not include additional fees, and are subject to change at the discretion of the providers. Speeds vary by location and are not available everywhere. Data sourced 11/23/21.
**Frontier Internet Offer Details: For new residential Frontier Internet customers. Requires Auto Pay or $5/mo fee applies. Effective January 2022, paper bill extra $2.99/mo, NY and select customers excluded. Max speeds are wired. Wi-Fi, actual & average speeds vary. Performance details: frontier.com/internetdisclosures. Activation ($85) and other applicable charges, add’l services and taxes are extra & subject to change during & after the promo period. A $10 fee applies when Internet is disconnected. Equipment return required at disconnection, up to $100 per device if not returned. Service subject to availability. Cannot be combined with other offers. Other restrictions, Frontier policies and service terms apply.
Rural ProviderFrontier
Starting Price*Less than $50/mo.**
Download Speed Up To*Varies by location
TypeDSL
Rural ProviderHughesNet
Starting Price*$59.99/mo.
Download Speed Up To*25 Mbps
TypeSatellite
Rural ProviderViasat 
Starting Price*$69.99/mo.
Download Speed Up To*100 Mbps
TypeSatellite
Rural ProviderAT&T
Starting Price*$45.00/mo.
Download Speed Up To*100 Mbps
TypeDSL
Rural ProviderRise Broadband
Starting Price*$35.00/mo.
Download Speed Up To*25 Mbps
TypeFixed-Wireless
Rural ProviderWindstream
Starting Price*$37.00/mo.
Download Speed Up To*100 Mbps
TypeDSL
*Prices and plans vary by location, do not include additional fees, and are subject to change at the discretion of the providers. Speeds vary by location and are not available everywhere. Data sourced 11/23/21.**Frontier Internet Offer Details: For new residential Frontier Internet customers. Requires Auto Pay or $5/mo fee applies. Effective January 2022, paper bill extra $2.99/mo, NY and select customers excluded. Max speeds are wired. Wi-Fi, actual & average speeds vary. Performance details: frontier.com/internetdisclosures. Activation ($85) and other applicable charges, add’l services and taxes are extra & subject to change during & after the promo period. A $10 fee applies when Internet is disconnected. Equipment return required at disconnection, up to $100 per device if not returned. Service subject to availability. Cannot be combined with other offers. Other restrictions, Frontier policies and service terms apply.

Rural Internet Connection Types

In rural areas, you probably have more options than you think. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), over 99% of people in the US have access to at least 2 providers near them. The four most common rural connections include DSL, satellite internet, fixed-wireless, or dial-up. 

So, which rural internet option is the best? That depends on a number of factors like your location, your data usage habits, and your budget. Below, we compare the different types of rural internet service to help you decide.

dsl internet icon

DSL

Similar to fiber internet and cable internet, DSL uses pre-existing cable lines to deliver internet service to homes – specifically phone lines. If you have phone lines to your home, you most likely have access to DSL internet service. In rural areas, DSL is preferred over satellite and fixed wireless internet because of its faster speeds and protection against harsh weather. There are a handful of nationwide DSL providers that offer affordable and fast plans including Frontier, AT&T, and CenturyLink.

satellite internet icon

Satellite

Satellite internet is a great option for rural and remote areas because it’s available virtually anywhere. In the past, satellite plans came with data caps, high latency (delay), and high price tags. However, providers like HughesNet, Viasat, and most recently Starlink now offer competitive rates and unlimited data to meet users’ needs. Today, satellite internet speeds can range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, but that’s anticipated to increase with the introduction of low-Earth orbit satellites.

WiFi signal icon

Fixed Wireless

Like satellite internet, fixed wireless uses a dish or antenna to receive internet. It broadcasts a signal from a fixed cell tower to surrounding areas and can deliver speeds up to 1000 Mbps in certain areas. It’s less common than other wireless connections, but those that can access it benefit from lower latency and decent data rates, making gaming possible in rural areas. Fixed wireless internet providers are also usually local ISPs, which means you can support a small business right within your community.

cable internet icon

Dial-Up

Yes, dial-up is still around. And if you live in a remote area, it very well could be your own option. It’s a decent and cheap internet connection if you plan to live an unplugged lifestyle that needs only check emails or browse the web. Similar to DSL internet, dial-up internet utilizes telephone lines to deliver service to homes. However, dial-up speeds are usually less than 1 Mbps, making it the very last option we’d recommend going with.

Best Satellite Service: HughesNet

HughesNet

HSO Guide to Rural Internet Options
  • Satellite internet
  • 2-year fixed pricing
  • No hard data caps

While satellite is available almost anywhere, it’s usually the last resort for rural households. Satellite tends to be slower than DSL and fixed wireless and more expensive in the long run. However, if your options are limited, HughesNet is a reliable satellite provider worth exploring. It has no hard data caps and offers promotional pricing for the first three months of service for instant savings.

thumb_upPros

  • check_circle50 GB/mo. bonus data for off-peak hours (2 am-8 am)
  • check_circleCheaper than Viasat for same Mbps
  • check_circle Built-in WiFi for greater home coverage
  • check_circleNo hard data caps

thumb_downCons

  • cancelLow upload speeds
  • cancelDifficult connection for gamers
  • cancelPromotional price increases after first 6 months

Best DSL Service: Frontier

Frontier

HSO Guide to Rural Internet Options
  • Fiber & DSL provider
  • WiFi router included
  • Unlimited data included

DSL internet uses home phone lines to deliver internet service to customers. While typically much slower than fiber and cable connections, DSL is preferred over satellite and fixed wireless internet in rural areas for its speeds and protection against inclement weather. Frontier in particular offers some of the fastest DSL plans with decent download speeds and unlimited data.

thumb_upPros

  • check_circleFree equipment rentals
  • check_circleNo contracts required
  • check_circleNo hard data caps

thumb_downCons

  • cancelLimited DSL availability
  • cancel$85 installation fee

Best Fixed Wireless Service: Rise Broadband

CenturyLink

HSO Guide to Rural Internet Options
  • Simplified pricing
  • Unlimited data included
  • No annual contract required

Rise Broadband offers fixed-wireless internet plans with speeds ranging from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps that can support light usage. Fixed-wireless internet service is not only easier to install than fiber and DSL that require lining wire to a home, but it also allows for quick repairs as well.

thumb_upPros

  • check_circleUnlimited data available for extra $10 per month
  • check_circleEasy setup for new homes
  • check_circleAffordable pricing

thumb_downCons

  • cancelOccasional signal interference due to weather
  • cancelData limit of 250 GB per month

Features to Look Out For

graphic of internet fee icons

Now that you have a better idea of what rural options are out there, it’s time to sift through providers. Along with your personal needs, you’ll want to keep these key features in mind when making your final decision.

Speeds

It’s tempting to want the best plan your ISP offers, but more times than not, you may need less than you think. The FCC recommends speeds between 1 Mbps and 8 Mbps for common internet activities like web browsing, streaming video, teleconferencing, and online gaming. Most rural internet providers offer at least 25 Mbps download speeds, which should support most of these everyday tasks.

Price

The last thing you want is to receive a bill in the mail that you weren’t expecting. When it comes to ISPs, you want to read the fine print to avoid any surprises. Oftentimes, they’ll sucker you in with a sweet promotional deal, only to hike the price up a few months or a year later.

Data Limits

Data limits can quickly kill the mood when they’re not enough. Before signing up for an internet plan, make sure they offer enough bandwidth to support your personal usage habits. Otherwise, you may find yourself unhappy with your provider at the onset. Most rural internet providers these days either include unlimited data in their plans or give customers the option to upgrade for an added fee.

Hidden Fees

An internet provider might have low introductory rates on internet plans, but that usually doesn’t include upfront costs like installation, activation fees, and equipment rentals. Be sure to look for the extra fees associated with your plan before signing on the dotted line.

Future of Rural Internet

The current state of the internet still leaves a lot to be desired, but there is much to look forward to in the coming years – especially as it relates to rural internet. Rural internet is where some of the most exciting developments in internet technology are happening. From mobile broadcast towers to low-Earth orbit satellites, new advancements are being made every day. And, common internet myths are being debunked along with them.

For example, one myth many people believe is that “satellite is on its last leg.” The reality is actually quite the opposite. Companies like SpaceX and Amazon are investing billions of dollars into low-Earth satellite systems to bring faster and cheaper rural internet options to millions of Americans.

As of early 2021, the Starlink Beta program powered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture is in testing phases throughout the US. This new satellite technology has the potential to deliver speeds of up to 1000 Mbps and latency as low as 20 ms. Not to mention, with satellite internet available virtually everywhere, this has the potential to significantly reduce the digital divide.

In addition, the continuing rollout of 5G could lead to better fixed wireless connections in rural areas, improving download speeds and increasing data limits for internet customers. So don’t give up on your home internet experience just yet. If you’re still looking for better service where you live, know that the future is bright for rural internet options.

Rural Internet FAQs

Can I get high speed internet in the country?

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Yes. Satellite, DSL, and fixed wireless internet are the most common connections types found in rural areas. Satellite is typically the go-to choice for rural households, as it’s available nearly everywhere in the United States. DSL is another great option if you’re looking for fast internet with higher monthly data allowances.

How can I save money on rural internet?

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There are multiple government programs available for rural residents in need of affordable internet service. For example, the Lifeline program helps low-income households get communications services including internet and phone. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is another program that helps households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, low-income families, and students pay for internet costs.

See what other government assistance programs are available right now that may help you get cheap or free internet service.

How can I improve my rural internet speed?

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The first option most people consider is changing their rural internet provider. However, there are a handful of tricks we recommend trying before you might resolve to switch internet providers. Here’s an infographic of the top 10 reasons for slow internet and how to fix them.

If you find that your slow internet speed is, in fact, related to your connection type, then it’s probably time to consider all your options. DSL and dial-up internet service tend to be the slowest connections, so switching to a fixed wireless or satellite internet provider may offer faster speeds.

Is satellite internet better than fixed wireless internet?

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Both satellite and fixed wireless internet are good options for rural households. Satellite internet is generally better than fixed wireless because it offers more availability and faster speeds. However, fixed wireless service tends to produce lower latency than satellite due to the shorter distance signal has to travel.

Why is rural internet so slow?

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It mostly comes down to cost and time. Rural internet tends to be slower than urban internet because ISPs choose to focus their attention and resources on areas with dense populations. It’s more profitable to service a smaller area with more people, which means rural areas often get shorted on the latest technology.

In addition, it takes substantial time and money to build out networks in rural areas where the terrain is often harsher and less developed than in the city. Grounded internet connections like fiber, cable, and DSL face geographical barriers that satellite can overcome easier.

How many satellite internet providers are there?

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There are currently two major satellite internet providers: Viasat and HughesNet. However, many new companies are attempting to compete in the market. The main one among them is Starlink (funded by SpaceX) who’s developing a new satellite constellation that flies at low orbit to deliver faster speeds.

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Paula Novo
Written By
Paula Novo
Written By
Paula Novo
With over four years of broadband experience, Paula Novo is the Site Editor and Senior Writer for HighSpeedOptions. She has helped develop the criterion by which HighSpeedOptions reviews and recommends internet service providers, striving to simplify and guide the user’s decision toward the best communications services. Paula also leads HighSpeedOptions coverage of the digital divide, ISP reviews, and broadband policy.