The Best Internet Options for Rural Areas: A Guide
If you’re wondering how to get high-speed Internet in rural areas, you’ve come to the right place.
Perhaps you just accepted a new job or have decided to move away from city life to be closer to family. Whatever the reason for your move, the first thing you may notice while shopping around for a provider is that there are fewer options to select from when you’re not in an urban area. This is largely because of the high cost of installation and operation to the provider and decreased profitability due to the lower population density in rural locations. Still, it’s important to know what your rural Internet options are across the broadband spectrum, including wireless, DSL, cable and satellite, as well as other options such as dialup.
Not all Internet connections are equal—for those in rural locations, our first choice is cable, then DSL, then satellite, then fixed wireless and lastly, dial-up. Here is an overview of the differences between each, some of the pros and cons, and a few suggestions on where to start your search.
Cable Modem Internet in Rural Areas
Cable Internet relies on the same infrastructure as cable television—those copper cables that run beneath your neighborhood. This means you can likely find cable Internet anywhere that you would also find cable television service. Internet access will require the use of a cable modem, which can usually be either rented from the provider or you can purchase your own separately. Cable is typically faster than a DSL or satellite connection, and it is highly reliable. You also won’t see outages during major weather events, such as thunderstorms.
Below are some possible options for cable Internet in rural locations. Depending on the ISP and where you’re located, download speeds range from 60 – 1,000 Mbps and prices range from $20 – $110 a month. Here are some good rural Internet options:
- Coverage: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and other states
Optimum (including former Suddenlink)
- Coverage: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and other states
- Coverage: Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and other states
- Coverage: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and other states
- Coverage: California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma and other states
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) in Rural Areas
DSL is a phone line-based service that is widely available across the U.S., including in many rural areas. Because nearly every part of the country has access to phone service in the U.S., DSL is a common Internet option for people living outside the city. While it travels across the phone lines just as dial-up Internet does, DSL is much faster. Most DSL providers will offer the option to rent a router and a modem to connect your standard phone line jack to the Internet, but there is also the option of buying your own devices if you’re looking to save money.
DSL is a relatively cheap option for rural Internet service, and you can sometimes obtain high speeds. However, its speed and reliability are outperformed by cable and fiber optic high-speed Internet options. If you just need Internet for light to medium usage, such as checking email and streaming video on one or two devices, then opting for DSL speeds of 10 – 25 Mbps will likely work for your household.
Faster DSL plans do exist in some rural areas, and they can reach speeds of over 100 Mbps for rural households with gamers and streamers. For more on that, you can check out this guide on the best Internet for gaming and gamers.
One of the biggest perks when comparing DSL to cable is that you won’t see slower speeds during peak usage hours since the phone wires are connected directly to your home, whereas cable networks are connected by neighborhoods. Armstrong, GCI and Fidelity Communications are a few providers that offer DSL Internet service options in some rural areas.
Satellite Internet in Rural Areas
If you live in a remote location where phone and cable lines can’t reach you, you may want to consider a satellite connection. There are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth. Satellite Internet relies on sending radio waves to satellites in Earth’s orbit, and then sending and receiving data to a communication network at your home, which includes a satellite dish and a modem.
Satellite technology has been around for a while now, but it still comes with a few setbacks. For starters, that data has to travel a long distance to get to your home from space, so this means you may experience some delays. If you’re just streaming video, you might not notice a whole lot of latency, since the data is sent in large chunks at a time, but if you’re using the Internet for gaming, which requires a very stable and consistent connection to that data stream, you might run into some issues. Weather can also cause problems for satellite Internet users.
Fixed Wireless Internet in Rural Areas
Fixed wireless home Internet means exactly what it sounds like. It is an Internet connection delivered to a fixed location (e.g., your home or office) from cell tower radio waves, meaning there is no need for direct lines to your home. It is a good way to get fast Internet to rural areas, but you might find that it is not the most widely available for more remote locations. Our top pick for reliable fixed wireless Internet in rural locations is Xtreme (Mediacom).
Dialup Internet in Rural Areas
While broadband Internet options are certainly the top choice because of their faster upload and download speeds, these options are still not always available in some rural locations. If this is the case, you may need to consider dialup Internet.
Dialup works on the same phone line infrastructure as a DSL connection, but there are some major differences. With dialup, there will be a delay for you to connect to the Internet (during the dialup period), and while using the Internet to browse online or stream video, your home phone line will be tied up. For mobile phone users, this may not be an issue, but if you like to use your home phone line, it’s something to keep in mind. Overall, dialup is slower than DSL, but in those parts of the country where Internet is still dialup or nothing, it’s better than nothing.
Deciding on Your Best Option for Rural Internet
To sum it up, if you live in a rural area, your options for the best Internet may be limited. That being said, when you’re shopping for Internet service, first consider how much you want to spend and what speeds you’re looking for. Not sure what speed you need? Check out this quiz to find out your household’s Internet speed needs.
Once you know how fast you need your Internet to be, you can look at what options are available in your area.
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