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Rural Internet Guide from DISH

How to Get Internet in Rural Areas

Rural Internet Technology Overview

Getting internet in rural areas remains a challenge. The low population density and high cost of maintenance make it an unattractive investment for large telecommunications companies. What rural internet options exist have generally been limited to dial-up connections over a 56K modem. Yes, that’s right. In the age of gigabit data transfers, 56K is alive and well. What’s worse, given that phone lines in many rural areas date back to the 1960s, the connection speed is often slower than 56K.

Thanks to the 2008 Farm Bill, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) produced a “comprehensive rural broadband strategy,” which set the stage for bringing broadband internet options to rural communities. Through a series of government programs and reforms, rural internet options have since expanded to include satellite internet, DSL, WISP and cellular/4G internet connections.

Satellite Internet:
The Faster Internet Connection

Satellite internet is a faster internet option for rural areas. Its speeds are roughly ten times faster than dial-up, with the additional benefit of not tying up your phone line. The modem is replaced by a small satellite that sits on your property, and functions as a node in a relay system instead of hijacking your phone line. You can still make and receive phone calls while you buy stuff from Amazon, check the weather, and search the far corners of the internet.

rural satellite internet
It's available almost anywhere.
rural satellite internet
It requires a small equipment footprint.
rural satellite internet
You get a reliable, “always on” connection.
rural satellite internet
It’s one of the fastest options for rural areas.


Dial-up internet for rural communities remains common due to the simple fact that it uses existing phone lines. In other words, no additional infrastructure, like cable lines or hubs, are needed so it’s cheap for telecommunications companies to maintain. A modem sits in your house, connects directly to your computer and phone line, and makes a call to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to establish a connection.

Sounds pretty straightforward, but in the age music-and-video streaming, dial-up internet definitely has some drawbacks:

  • It takes a several seconds to establish a connection.
  • The connection can be terminated by the user, ISP, or phone company at any time.
  • You get charged per minute instead of a flat connection fee.
  • Slow upload and download speeds, making it impossible to stream music or video, or transfer files.


A Digital Subscriber Line, more commonly known as DSL, is a step above dial-up internet. While it runs on the same wiring as telephone line, you can still make and receive calls while surfing the internet. DSL connections are generally more reliable than dial-up, and are “always on.” However, DSL internet isn’t always available in rural areas.

And the drawbacks don’t end there:

  • Inconsistent speeds since the farther you are from the provider, the slower your connection speed.
  • Spotty connections as providers may use the DSL lines to handle large call volumes.
  • Slow upload speeds, making sharing data and files challenging.


A Wireless Internet Service Provider, or WISP, is also known as mobile broadband. Not quite like Verizon since your laptop or desktop isn’t connected by default. You generally install an app that searches for—and connects to—a WISP.

Benefits of a WISP connection over dial-up or DSL include faster speeds and the ability to connect wherever you can find a hotspot. With WISP, there’s no need to trek all the way back to the house or wait until the end of the day to upload and share photos or update and share a spreadsheet. You can do that from a laptop while sitting in your truck. Before you get too excited, though, consider the following:

  • It often requires large equipment on your property.
  • That equipment requires a fixed line of sight, or a clear line of sight, to the tower in order to establish and maintain a signal.
  • Rain, snow, and poor weather conditions can interfere with sight lines and connections.


The beauty of cellular/4G is speed. Smartphones are ubiquitous, and nationwide cellular coverage continues to get better, making it easier to share photos, buy products, stream content, chat via messenger apps, and make the occasional phone call. Cellular and 4G connections offer superior speed and reliability compared to dial-up, DSL, or WISP. However, for rural communities, cellular and 4G internet connections have a few drawbacks:

  • Spotty, inconsistent coverage.
  • Often costs more per gig of data.
  • Poor battery life for connected devices.