Rural internet access in the U.S.

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April 09, 2020

That old dial-up connection may seem like a thing of the past, but, for some Americans, this is still very much a reality. About 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. Today, the internet is considered more of a utility than a luxury because individuals with access to the internet in their households have improved employment and economical odds. Technology use is now required even in lower-skilled jobs.

Getting fast, reliable internet for rural areas across America remains a challenge. The high cost of installation and maintenance coupled with the small population make it an unappealing investment for large telecommunication companies. Additionally, while dial-up internet relies upon phone lines, many rural internet areas also have phone lines dating back to the 1960s and 70s, so the connection speed, even on their slow dial-up, is even slower than the intended 56k. Despite other options, dial-up continues to remain the most commonly used form of the internet in rural areas merely because it requires no additional infrastructure, cable lines, hubs or towers.  

Live in a rural area and want to see what options are available now? Search for availability in your zip code:

Compare rural internet providers

As internet for rural areas improves and expands, families who choose to live away from urban zones will find more rural internet options. Here are six of the most popular internet providers for rural households:

PROVIDERTYPECOVERAGEAVAILABILITY
HughesNetSatellite50 statesCheck Availability
ViasatSatellite50 statesCheck Availability
Rise BroadbandFixed wireless16 statesCheck Availability
CenturyLinkFixed wireless36 statesCheck Availability
AT&TDSL21 statesCheck Availability
VerizonCellular50 statesCheck Availability

Types of internet available for rural areas

Luckily, rural America is moving forward and improving conditions for their populations when it comes to internet access. We know that dial-up is an option to get basic internet access, but it’s not the only option. Let’s look at other types of internet for rural areas currently available and gaining traction:

  • Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

  • If you already have a dial-up connection, chances are you can easily get a DSL connection. Just like dial-up, DSL service sends data using your existing phone lines, but it’s up to ten times faster than dial-up and it allows you to use your phone while connected to the internet. DSL still has some drawbacks: inconsistent internet speeds, spotty connections at times and slow upload speeds, but the reliability and speed of DSL is still miles ahead of dial-up for rural internet users.

  • Satellite

  • If DSL is not an option in your area, satellite most likely is. If you can get a satellite dish installed on your home, then you can most likely get rural internet via satellite. And with satellite technology improving each year, download speeds on satellite internet have greatly improved. Like DSL, satellite internet will not tie up your phone lines. However, one of the major drawbacks of satellite internet is the same drawback as satellite television – the weather may affect your connection.

  • Wireless Internet Service Providers

  • A Wireless Internet Service Provider, also known as WISP, is a mobile broadband service that you can use to create internet service at home. This type of connection is not quite like WiFi because your computer is not always connected by default. Internet service providers set up large towers and can transmit internet data using radio signals, servicing an entire community from one large broadcasted wireless signal. WISP requires equipment installation on your property, the equipment needs a clear line of sight to the tower in order to maintain a strong signal and stormy weather can interfere with sight lines and the connection in general.

  • Cellular/4G

  • Cellular coverage nationwide continues to improve by the year, making it easier to surf the web, share photos, shop, stream content, text, email and call from nearly anywhere in the country. With this type of service, you must use a smartphone rather than a desktop computer for your internet needs, but with today’s technology, there isn’t much a smartphone can’t do. While seemingly the easiest and best way to get a steady rural internet connection, cellular/4G still has its drawbacks: the coverage can be spotty and inconsistent in rural areas, the costs per gig of data can be expensive and your internet usage and access are dependent upon the battery life of your phone.

Best rural internet provider details

HughesNet

HughesNet internet

Starting at $49.99 /mo for 24 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 25 Mbps
  • No data caps
  • Connection type: Satellite
  • Availability: All states

Viasat

Viasat internet

Starting at $50 /mo for 24 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 100 Mbps
  • Connection type: Satellite
  • Availability: All states

Rise Broadband

Rise broadband internet

Starting at $29.95 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 50 Mbps
  • Data caps starting at 250 GB
  • Connection type: Fixed wireless
  • Availability: 16 states

CenturyLink

CenturyLink internet

Starting at $49.00 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Internet speeds up to 940 Mbps
  • No data caps
  • No contracts

AT&T

AT&T internet

Starting at $49.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • DSL service for 768k-100 Mbps speeds

Verizon Wireless

Verizon internet

Starting at $39.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Unlimited 4G service

Rural internet: an improving industry

Ever since 2016, high-speed internet has been defined as a utility rather than a luxury. A federal court ruled in a landslide decision that high-speed internet should be treated like any other utility, such as power and phone lines, paving the way for better oversight of broadband providers and more protections for internet users. Additionally, this ruling required both internet service providers and the Federal Communications Commission to take a more active role in getting affordable internet access to Americans, even in rural areas and low-income households. 

Rural internet is already improving, and in the upcoming years, we expect this to continue. 5G internet is expected to make huge strides for broadband internet for rural areas across the United States. But with options such as cable, DSL, fiber, satellite and fixed wireless plans, there is no reason rural households still need to rely on that old dial-up connection. Contact your internet service provider and see what rural internet options may be available near you.