Guide to Getting Rural Internet in the Country
You may have more rural internet options than you think. Learn how internet providers get service to rural America.
INTERNET FOR RURAL AREAS: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS
When you try to order high-speed internet in the country, you get used to hearing “no.” That’s because most internet providers have to build expensive physical infrastructure to offer service in a certain area, and the fewer customers they sign per mile, the more money they lose installing the network.
Many internet service providers decide that internet for rural areas isn’t worth their resources, creating a digital divide between Americans that can and can’t get internet service at home.
SATELLITE INTERNET FOR COUNTRY LIVING
Satellite offers some of the fastest available internet for rural areas. Like all internet types, satellite has some drawbacks including soft or hard data caps, plus higher internet latency (time between a click and its response) than landbound technologies.
Because satellites hover in space, their signal can reach virtually any location on earth. It’s as easy to reach rural areas as it is to reach urban areas.
Fast rural internet
Satellite internet is now roughly 10 times faster than dial-up and three times faster than DSL. Download speeds in some areas reach 100 Mbps.
Unlike dial-up, satellite internet is always on. You can load content on an internet browser instantly instead of waiting 60+ seconds to connect.
Frees up your landline
Satellite internet doesn’t tie up your phone line, so you can still make landline calls while you shop on Amazon, check the weather, or read the news.
Small equipment footprint
Modern internet service requires only a small satellite dish that fits neatly on your property, not the giant ones people used 40 years ago.
Unlimited data options
In some areas, you can get plans with unlimited data. You may experience slower speeds after you hit a soft data cap, but you won’t pay overage fees.
MORE RURAL INTERNET OPTIONS
How to get internet in the country
- Cellular broadband
- Affordable because it’s cheap for telecom companies to maintain
- Available almost everywhere
- Takes a few minutes to log on
- Can’t use with your landline phone at the same time
- Per-minute rates instead of a flat fee
- Speeds <1 Mbps make it impossible to stream or share files
A Digital Subscriber Line, more commonly known as DSL, also operates on existing phone lines. It works by sending internet signals on a different frequency than voice signals so the two don’t interfere.
- Always-on internet for out in the country
- OK to use phone and internet together
- Generally affordable, since it uses existing infrastructure
- Not always available in rural communities
- Speeds fluctuate with large call volumes
- Slow uploads make sharing and video chat difficult
- The farther you live from the provider, the slower your speeds
A wireless internet service provider, or WISP, uses centrally located towers to broadcast a wireless internet signal. You connect to the signal by installing the provider’s app on your computer or phone.
- Faster internet speeds than dial-up and DSL
- Connect to available hotspots even if you’re not at home
- Not always available in the country
- Requires large equipment with a clear line of sight to the tower
- Poor weather can interfere with internet connectivity
Cellular internet broadcasts signal from cell towers to a mobile hotspot in your home. These hotspot receivers are made for home internet use, so you don’t have to use your phone for everything.
- Speed and reliability, especially on a 5G network
- Unlimited data plans often available
- Spotty coverage happens everywhere, including in rural areas
- Often more expensive per GB of data
- Connected devices can experience poor battery life
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get internet in rural areas
To start your search for rural internet now, enter your ZIP code here. Or to search the web instead, try typing keywords from this article into Google or Bing, paying special attention to the rural internet types we outlined.
What is the difference between Wi-Fi and internet?
Wi-Fi gives you internet access wirelessly, without plugging your computer, TV receiver, or game console into an Ethernet wall port. You can get Wi-Fi in the country or the city, as long as your internet provider supports it.
If your home has satellite, DSL, cable, or fiber-optic internet, you’ll need to plug your Wi-Fi router into the wall port to create your Wi-Fi network. If you use WISP or cellular broadband for home internet, you won’t need to create a Wi-Fi network because your wireless signal comes straight from the provider.
What does latency mean?
Latency, measured in milliseconds (ms), refers to how long it takes for an internet request to be completed on a certain type of internet. Low latency makes your internet feel fast because the data arrives at its destination (you) sooner.
Satellite internet latency runs a little higher than wired technologies’ because the signal travels farther—literally to space and back. Other wireless technologies, like WISP, have similar latencies (except for home Wi-Fi latency, which is quite low).
But wireless internet doesn’t always feel slow, and wired doesn’t always feel fast. DSL experiences friction from heat, which can cause packet loss and lag. And factors that have nothing to do with your provider, like inefficient code on an app or website, can also slow your connection.