Your Guide to Rural Internet Options

There’s more to rural internet than slow, expensive satellite plans. We’ll help you find all your options—and create new opportunities.

Rural internet guide

If you’re having trouble getting reliable internet service in your rural area, you’re not alone. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 22.3 percent of folks in rural America and 27.7 percent of people on tribal lands lack broadband internet. Only 1.5 percent of urban Americans can say the same—the digital divide is that drastic.1

Broadband internet is the FCC’s term for internet with minimum download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps, which is nowhere near the 100 Mbps we recommend as a good internet download speed. But with delays in broadband deployment to rural areas, even the bare minimum rates would be a windfall for some.

We want to help you find the fastest rural internet options at a price that won’t empty your wallet. Read on for our guide to rural internet service types and providers, alternative solutions, financial support for rural internet users, and future developments to work and hope for.

 

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Local internet providers

The tables below include download speeds and prices of internet providers reviewed on CableTV.com. Our reviews cover the most prominent internet providers, but many rural areas have local internet providers too.

Head over to our friends at HighSpeedInternet.com to find your local providers. Their comprehensive database includes every internet service provider across the US—perfect for finding lesser-known rural internet options.

Or, if you prefer to stick to the big names, enter your zip code below to use the CableTV.com tool. Our database is smaller, but it’s a good place to start.

Please enter a valid zip code.

Rural internet types

The most common internet types in the US are fiber-optic, cable, and digital subscriber line (DSL). Another option is wireless internet, which includes fixed wireless internet and solutions from mobile providers—like 4G LTE and 5G home internet and cellular hotspots. You might even consider satellite internet, which has recently gotten much buzz with Starlink.

Fiber internet

Fiber internet is the fastest, most reliable internet service type. Fiber-optic cables allow data to travel at the speed of light through glass (or sometimes plastic).

But to take full advantage of fiber internet speeds, you need fiber-optic cables that run to your home, not just your city or county. Most internet providers don’t want to take on the cost of building new infrastructure, so they leave their rural customers in a lurch.

Some rural communities have taken matters into their own hands to install municipality-owned networks. We’ll cover how you can pursue that option in the “future of rural internet” section below.

Fiber internet providers

Provider Price range Download speeds up to Data cap Details
Ziply $20.00–$300.00/mo. 5,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Ziply review
CenturyLink $30.00–$70.00/mo. 940 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read CenturyLink review
MetroNet $39.95–$59.95/mo. 1,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read MetroNet review
Optimum $40.00–$165.00/mo. 5,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Optimum review
Frontier Fiber $49.99–$149.99/mo. 2,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Frontier Fiber review

Cable internet

Cable internet relies on coaxial cables—the same connection you use to watch cable TV. It’s a step down from fiber internet, but you’ll likely get broadband speeds if there’s cable internet in your rural community.

With assistance from fiber technology, cable home internet plans now run as fast as 1,000 Mbps. But your internet provider might offer only slower plans if your home is far away from the node where the fiber internet support ends.

Cable internet providers

Provider Price range Download speeds up to Data cap Details
Astound Broadband $14.99–$49.99/mo. 940 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Astound review
Mediacom $19.99–$59.99/mo. 1,000 Mbps 200–6,000 GB View plans

Read Mediacom review
Xfinity $19.99–$83.95/mo. 1,200 Mbps 1,200 GB View plans

Read Xfinity review
Optimum $30.00–$65.00/mo. 940 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Optimum review
Sparklight $39.00–$110.00/mo. 940 Mbps 100 GB–Unlimited View plans

Read Sparklight review
Buckeye $39.99–$99.99/mo. 1,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans
Spectrum $49.99–$89.99/mo. 1,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Spectrum review
Cox $49.99–$99.99/mo. 1,000 Mbps 1,280 GB View plans

Read Cox review
WOW! $9.99–$64.99/mo. 1,000 Mbps 1,000 GB–Unlimited View plans

Read WOW! review

Pro tip: 

While most fiber internet providers offer unlimited data, the other internet service types often come with data caps. You might be okay with a 1,000 GB data cap, but you should be cautious about smaller data caps. It’s easier to eat up data than you think, and providers charge expensive fees for data overages.

DSL internet

DSL uses phone lines to deliver internet to your home. DSL speeds can reach up to 100 Mbps in areas with a nearby fiber backbone. But many rural areas are so far removed from fiber networks that there’s no chance of broadband DSL speeds.

If DSL internet providers don’t supply the speeds you need, look into wireless and satellite internet.

DSL internet providers

Provider Price range Download speeds up to Data cap Details
Windstream $39.99/mo. 100 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Windstream review
Earthlink $49.95–$59.95/mo. 45 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Earthlink review
Frontier $49.99/mo. N/A Unlimited View plans

Read Frontier review
Ziply $50.00/mo. 115 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Ziply review
CenturyLink $50.00/mo. 100 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read CenturyLink review
AT&T $55.00/mo. 100 Mbps 1,000 GB View plans

Read AT&T review

Wireless internet

While most folks use Wi-Fi routers to use wireless internet in their home, wireless technology can also send internet over greater distances. But this technology comes with more latency than wired services like cable internet, so it’s not our first pick.

Wireless internet services included fixed wireless internet, 4G LTE and 5G home internet, and mobile hotspots. Fixed wireless internet has been a rural internet solution for years, but 4G LTE home internet is still new, and the short-ranged 5G home internet is ill-suited to support the vast swaths of land in rural areas.

A mobile hotspot may still be available if the providers in the table below don’t offer service in your rural community. Use Cellmapper to find the mobile provider with the strongest signals to your home.

And you’re in for a treat if T-Mobile has a strong signal in your area. The Calyx Institute, a nonprofit devoted to privacy technology, uses T-Mobile’s network for its yearly mobile hotspot subscription. With Calyx Internet, you get wireless internet service, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, and unlimited internet data starting at $500 yearly.

Wireless internet providers

Provider Price range Download speeds up to Data cap Details
Rise Broadband $25.00–$65.00/mo. 50 Mbps 250 GB–Unlimited View plans

Read Rise Broadband review
Verizon 5G Home Internet $25.00–$70.00/mo. 1,000 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Verizon 5G Home Internet review
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet $50.00/mo. 182 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read T-Mobile 5G Home Internet review
Midco $64.95–$99.95/mo. 100 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Read Midco review

Satellite internet

Satellite internet is a long-time staple of the rural internet world. Using satellites in orbit and satellite receiving dishes at customers’ homes, satellite internet connects remote areas beyond the reach of wired internet.

With high costs, excessive latency, limited speeds, and tiny data allowances, satellite internet isn’t an ideal solution. But it’s better than nothing if you don’t have other internet options.

Satellite internet providers

Provider Price range Download speeds up to Data cap Details
HughesNet $64.99–$159.99/mo. 25 Mbps 15–75 GB View plans

Read HughesNet review
Viasat $84.99–$249.99/mo. 100 Mbps 45–300 GB View plans

Read Viasat review
Starlink $110.00/mo. 250 Mbps Unlimited View plans

Pro tip: 

For help choosing a satellite internet provider, head over to our “Best Satellite Internet Provider” review.

Rural internet alternatives

If the internet services above don’t reach your home or adequately support your internet needs, you may want to consider less traditional options.

Tech savvy rural internet users may employ network bonding to improve their home internet speeds. But network bonding can be expensive, so you may prefer taking the trip into town to use library programs and public access points.

Network bonding

Network bonding is a pricey rural internet solution—to kick things off, you have to pay for two or more internet plans, which might cost you upwards of $100 a month. Using network bonding equipment or software, you can take advantage of the plans’ combined internet speeds, data allowance, and reliability across all your devices.

Some folks who travel in their RVs use network bonding with hotspot plans from different wireless providers. They can travel more confidently, knowing they’ll automatically connect to the strongest wireless network in the area, be it AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon.

If you want to dive into network bonding, check out Speedify and OpenMPTCProuter. Speedify is a straightforward, user-friendly software, but it costs $14.99 monthly—less if you get a yearly plan. OpenMPTCProuter is free but requires a lot of technical know-how.

Rural public library internet

Public libraries play an essential role in keeping rural communities connected. Internet-related services vary by location, but you should ask your local library about these services:

  • Loanable wireless hotspots
  • Loanable laptops
  • Public Wi-Fi access points
  • Technology classes

Public Wi-Fi access points

Like public libraries, other organizations in your community may offer public Wi-Fi access points. Locations to check out include restaurants, community centers, and government buildings.

Use the Wiman app to find free Wi-Fi hotspots near you, then sidle on up with your Wi-Fi-compatible device to get connected.

Financial support for rural internet

Recent estimates put the nonmetro poverty rate at 15.4 percent, higher than the 11.9 percent metro poverty rate.2 If your household makes within 200% of the national poverty guidelines, you should check out the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

Along with the ACP, the Lifeline program and internet provider initiatives also offer internet discounts to Americans with low income. Here’s an overview of the programs we cover in detail with our “Free and Low-Income Internet Guide.”

Affordable Connectivity Program

The Affordable Connectivity Program offers $30 monthly off internet service for qualifying low-income households. And if you’re among the 18 percent of tribal lands residents who don’t have internet access3, you might qualify for a $75 monthly discount. Check out the list of ways to qualify for ACP support.

Lifeline program

The Lifeline program has been around longer than the Affordable Connectivity Program. It’s a little harder to qualify for than the ACP, but you can double it up with your ACP support to save $9.25 monthly on internet or phone—$29.25 monthly if you live on tribal lands. Learn more about how to qualify for the Lifeline program.

Provider-specific discounts

Some internet providers offer internet plans with prices as low as $9.95 monthly for qualifying customers. Combine these deals with an ACP and Lifeline discount, and you might end up paying nothing for internet.

The discounts and qualification requirements vary between providers. Head to the “Free and Low-Income Internet Guide” to compare your options.

Computer equipment for low-income households

If you need new internet equipment to stay connected, check out the nonprofits ConnectAll and PCs for People. These organizations recycle and refurbish used computer equipment at a discounted rate for low-income households.

PCs for People also offers a wireless internet plan for $15 monthly. You can combine that with an ACP discount for free internet—and get $100 off select computers when you sign up.

Future of rural internet

While your area might not have broadband internet service right now, wired internet networks may be coming your way. The FFC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) will award up to $20.4 billion to bring internet to rural America, though it’s had some setbacks due to inaccurate planning.4

But you don’t have to sit back and wait for the FCC and internet providers to solve the digital divide. We’ve seen private Americans build their own fiber internet companies5 and rural communities come together to form municipality-owned networks. Here are programs to support you in bringing broadband to your community:

ReConnect Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers hundreds of millions in loans and grants to build and improve broadband internet access in rural America. While corporations can apply for assistance, so can co-ops, local governments, and Indian tribes.

Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit

The nonprofit Next Century Cities has helped over 220 municipalities grow internet networks. Its Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit collects learnings from its successful broadband expansions to walk you through building better broadband in your community.

Final take

Broadband is essential for work, education, telehealth, and personal connection in rural America. To find every internet provider in your area, check out the comprehensive database from our pals at HighSpeedInternet.com.

Whether you can find a solid wired internet connection in your rural community or this is the kick-off of your municipality-owned network crusade, we wish you the best in your rural internet journey.

Rural internet FAQ

What is the best way to get internet in rural areas?

Fiber internet offers the fastest, most reliable internet connection, but it’s not common in rural America. If you can organize your community to build the infrastructure, resources like the ReConnect Program can help you fund broadband deployment in your rural area.

What type of internet is used in rural areas?

Rural internet varies by area but comes in all service types: fiber, cable, DSL, wireless, and satellite.

How can I get internet if I live in the country?

If you don’t have a wired internet network in your area, check out fixed wireless internet, 4G home internet, and mobile hotspots. But if there’s no solid wireless signal in your area, consider satellite internet instead.

Methodology

Our internet service experts have spent years researching internet providers and trends. For this article, we spent weeks delving into rural internet resources from corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and online communities.

Sources

  1. FCC, “2020 Broadband Deployment Report,” June 2020. Accessed September 9, 2022.
  2. Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Rural Poverty & Well-Being,” updated March 7, 2022. Accessed September 9, 2022.
  3. American Indian Policy Institute, Arizona State University, “Tribal Broadband Resources,” February 2, 2022. Accessed September 9, 2022.
  4. Karl Bode and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, Community Networks, “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction: One Year Later,” February 6, 2022. Accessed September 9, 2022.
  5. S. Dent, Engadget, “The man who built his own ISP to avoid huge fees is expanding his service,” August 11, 2022. Accessed September 9, 2022.

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