It can be difficult to get decent internet to your home when you live in a rural area. Not all service providers have a rural internet option, which can make getting reliable service tricky for those living outside a city. And even when they do, it may not be that great. But while rural internet options may be limited, you might have access to more ISPs in your area than you first thought. Rural internet access has come a long way in the past few years thanks to expansion of fiber and cable networks, new broadband technologies and major efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to close the digital divide. So while your download speeds may drag a bit compared to those enjoyed by city folks, you can still get excellent internet service where you live.
The choices include the two big satellite providers, HughesNet and Viasat, along with other top providers and more preferable connection types. Among them, here are my picks for the best providers that are most likely to be available in rural areas, all of which were chosen based on factors including availability, speeds, pricing, data caps and customer satisfaction. Other than listing my top two picks first, providers are listed in no particular order.
Best rural internet providers
- Connection type: DSL, fiber-optic
- Price range: $50-$70 per month
- Speed range: 1-940Mbps
- Data cap: None
- CNET review score: 6.7
Aside from satellite internet providers, CenturyLink has arguably the greatest coverage area of any ISP, largely spanning suburban and rural areas across 36 states coast to coast. Most of that coverage, around 77%, comes from its DSL network, which means many rural residents within CenturyLink service areas will likely only be eligible for DSL service.
The good news is that 66% of DSL customers will be able to get broadband speeds or higher — that’s download speeds up to 25Mbps and upload speeds of 3Mbps — and more than a quarter of customers, around 28%, can get max download speeds of 100Mbps or higher. So in short, CenturyLink can meet or beat the internet speeds of satellite internet in most service areas, and service comes with a lower price tag (starting at $49 per month), unlimited data and no contracts.
If CenturyLink’s fiber service, Quantum Fiber, is available in your area, consider yourself lucky — fiber service from any provider only reaches 25% of rural areas, according to the FCC. Quantum Fiber comes with two plan options: 100Mbps starting at $50 per month or gig service starting at $70 per month. Either plan is a massive upgrade from satellite, DSL or other rural internet connection types, so I’d recommend deciding which speed you need and going with CenturyLink’s fiber service if it happens to be available.
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- Connection type: DSL, fiber-optic
- Price range: $37-$67 per month
- Speed range: 25-1,000Mbps
- Data cap: None
- CNET review score: 6.7
Kinetic by Windstream also received a 6.7/10 in our review, but falls well short of CenturyLink in total coverage area. That said, it’s an excellent choice for rural internet, as the provider has some of the fastest DSL speeds and one of the greatest fiber network percentages of any rural ISP.
Kinetic offers internet service in 18 states total across the Midwest, South and Eastern US. Though available primarily in rural and suburban areas, nearly a third of Windstream’s network uses fiber technology. Where fiber service is available, Kinetic customers can get download and upload speeds ranging from 25 up to 1,000Mbps, which is among the fastest speeds available from any major rural internet provider. These speeds make Kinetic ideal for streaming over wireless connections and online gaming, activities that are often a challenge with rural internet service.
Service areas not eligible for fiber will have to settle for DSL, but Kinetic’s DSL network is better than most. More than 86% of households will have access to broadband speeds or higher, while roughly 65% can get speeds up to or higher than 100Mbps.
Regardless of the available network, Kinetic is a great choice for unlimited rural internet service, as all plans come with no data caps or contracts.
- Connection type: Cable
- Price range: $20-$80 per month
- Speed range: 60-1,000Mbps
- Data cap: 200-6,000GB
- CNET review score: 6.4
As a cable provider, Mediacom can deliver much faster speeds than DSL, satellite or fixed wireless service, but its service reach is more limited. Mediacom is available to just over 2% of US residents with service areas across much of the Midwest and South, as well as parts of California and Delaware.
Still, if it’s available in your area, Mediacom is one of the best cheap internet providers for rural areas, with service starting at just $20 a month. Just know that the cheapest Mediacom plan only comes with 200GB of data, and going over the limit can add up to $50 to your bill. More data is available with higher-tiered plans, up to 6 terabytes, but no Mediacom plan offers unlimited rural internet service.
Pricing goes up on all Mediacom plans after the first year and settles somewhere around the industry average for cable internet providers. Still, starting prices of $20-$80 per month aren’t bad, especially for a rural internet connection.
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- Connection type: Fixed wireless
- Price range: $25-$65 per month
- Speed range: 5-100Mbps
- Data cap: 250GB, unlimited data options available
- CNET review score: 6.2
Rise Broadband is a leading fixed wireless internet provider with service available to around 6% of US households, many of which are in rural areas. Coverage spans 16 states, with Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and Utah having the highest serviceability.
Similar to satellite internet, fixed wireless service from Rise Broadband requires no direct lines to the home, making it accessible to those in rural areas where cable, fiber-optic and even telephone lines do not reach. Where available, Rise Broadband would be my choice over satellite internet, as the provider offers speeds up to 100Mbps, latency low enough to support online gaming, and truly unlimited data options, all for a relatively low price compared to satellite.
Rise Broadband is also a great choice for wireless internet in rural areas with Premium Wi-Fi and Premium Mesh Wi-Fi service available as add-ons to all internet plans.
- Connection type: DSL, fiber-optic
- Price range: $20-$300 per month
- Speed range: 50-5,000Mbps
- Data cap: None
- CNET review score: 6.9
You read that speed range correctly: Ziply Fiber offers multigigabit internet speeds with 2 and 5Gbps plans available in select — and rural — areas throughout the Northwest. The provider recently rolled out the multigigabit service to 170,000 homes with plans to bring the service to all homes within its expanding fiber network later this year.
The fastest Ziply plan may be more speed than you need, and more than you want to pay at $300 per month, but other Ziply plans present a bit more affordability without having to sacrifice too much speed. Ziply’s entry level plan, for example, starts at just $20 per month for symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 50Mbps. Other speed tiers include 200Mbps, 1Gbps and 2Gbps, with starting prices ranging from $40 to $120 per month. All plans come with unlimited data and no contract requirements.
Ziply has an impressive fiber network, but only about half of Ziply service areas are eligible for fiber service, according to the FCC. All others will rely on a DSL network which, like most DSL services, presents one plan option for the fastest speeds available. In the case of Ziply Internet, the DSL service, that plan starts at $50 per month for speeds up to 115Mbps. Again, that’s the fastest possible speeds, and many customers may only be eligible for speeds that are much slower.
- Connection type: Wireless
- Price range: $50 a month
- Speed range: 25-110Mbps
- Data cap: Unlimited
- CNET review score: N/A
The arrival of 5G is exciting news for your phone, but the technology could also improve home internet connectivity, especially if you’re in a rural area. So far, T-Mobile has the greatest 5G availability with coverage reaching 30 million homes across 40 states. Around a third of those homes are in rural areas, according to T-Mobile.
If your address is eligible for T-Mobile 5G home internet, you’ll have one plan option: $50 a month for the fastest speeds available. The plan also comes with no data caps or contracts, and equipment is included at no additional cost
Actual speeds will vary by address, but will probably fall in the 35-115Mbps range. I can’t say those speeds are particularly impressive, but they are faster than you can expect from satellite service, without the hassle of data caps and contracts. Another thing of note on speeds, T-Mobile home internet service may occasionally fall back to 4G LTE service, which means speeds can further dip and vary.
- Connection type: Satellite
- Price range: $65-$170 per month
- Speed range: 12-100Mbps
- Data cap: 40-150GB (no hard data cap)
- CNET review score: 6.1
Slow speed is one of the biggest downsides to satellite internet, but in many areas, Viasat‘s speeds are higher than those of its main satellite internet rival, HughesNet. While HughesNet download speeds top out at the broadband threshold of 25Mbps, Viasat customers can sign up for 50Mbps or 100Mbps in select areas. Almost half of Viasat’s coverage area, which is essentially half of all households in the US, Alaska and Hawaii included, are eligible for speeds up to 100Mbps, according to the FCC.
But with great(ish) speed comes (not-so) great pricing. Viasat is the most expensive rural broadband provider you’ll find, with service starting at $65 per month for speeds as low as 12Mbps, not to mention an added $13 per month for equipment. If you want the fastest speeds, 100Mbps, it’ll cost you $170 or more per month. There’s also a price hike after just three months of service that could add $30, $50 or $100 to your bill, depending on the plan.
Viasat is the fastest satellite provider with coverage in all 50 states, but perhaps not for long. Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper have injected a lot of interest into the category, and consumers should keep an eye on names like those in the coming years.
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- Connection type: Satellite
- Price range: $65-$160 per month
- Speed range: 25Mbps
- Data cap: 10-50GB (no hard data cap)
- CNET review score: 5.7
HughesNet offers some relief to the high cost of satellite internet with lower starting prices than Viasat, albeit not by much. There is more value to HughesNet’s entry level plan versus Viasat, however, with HughesNet delivering speeds up to 25Mbps and 15GB of data starting at $65 per month compared to Viasat’s 12Mbps with 40GB of data starting at $70 per month — with a $30 price increase right around the corner.
At the surface level, Viasat plans appear to come with significantly more data, but HughesNet throws in an additional 50GB per month for all customers regardless of the plan they choose. Known as the “Bonus Zone,” the extra 50GB is available between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., when network congestion is presumably at its lowest. Granted, the timing’s not ideal if you’re not a night owl, but if you can strategically schedule your downloads to occur between these hours, it could add a considerable chunk to your monthly data allowance.
Speed reliability is another advantage to HughesNet service. According to the FCC’s Eighth Measuring Broadband in America Report, HughesNet outperformed all other participating ISPs in terms of actual versus advertised speeds over a wired connection, with actual median speeds coming in at 150% or higher of the advertised speed.
HughesNet customers are likely to run into speed issues if they exceed the monthly data cap, however. HughesNet does not charge overage fees, meaning the service is technically “unlimited,” but customers who go over their monthly data allowance will have to purchase more data or endure drastically reduced speeds for the remainder of their billing cycle.
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Best rural internet providers overview
Whew, that was a lot to take in. For a quick comparison of the best rural internet providers, here’s a chart with all the significant plan and pricing details, including speeds, data caps and contract requirements all in one place.
Rural internet provider details
|Provider||Starting price range||Download speed range (Mbps)||Equipment cost||Data cap||Contract||CNET review score|
|Rise Broadband||$25-$65||25-100||$10 modem rental (mandatory), $5-$15 router rental (skippable)||250GB or unlimited||Typically not required||6.2|
Top rural ISP honorable mentions
These providers are also popular choices for internet service in rural areas but lack the speed, value or customer satisfaction marks to have made our list of the best.
- Frontier: Frontier Internet, a DSL service, reaches select rural areas in 25 states, but speeds are inconsistent and likely to not reach broadband speeds in most areas. Plans start at $38 a month and include unlimited data and equipment rental at no extra cost.
- EarthLink: EarthLink employs existing networks from providers including AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon to deliver service, meaning speeds, connection quality and pricing can vary widely by location. Pricing typically starts around $45 a month for up to 25Mbps in most service areas.
- AT&T Fixed Wireless: Fixed wireless service makes up about 7% of AT&T’s internet network. Where available, customers can get download speeds up to 25Mbps and 350GB data for around $60 a month.
- Verizon LTE Installed: Another fixed wireless service, Verizon LTE Installed makes use of Verizon’s 4G network and can deliver speeds typically around 25Mbps starting at $40 a month for Verizon mobile customers.
- Starlink: A satellite newcomer, Elon Musk’s Starlink promises to boost satellite internet speeds while reducing latency thanks to a massive constellation of low-orbit satellites. Despite hearing about it for some time now, Starlink’s availability is still somewhat sparse, and expensive equipment along with a recent price increase may offer little relief to the already high cost of satellite internet.
Rural internet FAQs
What are my options for internet in a rural area?
Satellite internet from HughesNet or Viasat is almost always going to be an option because of the wireless delivery, but satellite comes with a few downsides such as high pricing and low data allowances. Other wireless internet options for rural areas include fixed wireless service, from providers such as Rise Broadband and AT&T, and 5G home internet. Currently, T-Mobile offers the greatest 5G coverage in rural areas with speeds up to 110Mbps starting at $50 per month.
DSL is another popular internet option in rural areas, but speeds can vary significantly by location and provider. For the fastest rural DSL speeds, look to ISPs CenturyLink and Kinetic — both offer speeds above the broadband threshold in more than 60% of their service areas. If cable internet is available, this will likely be your best bet for speed and reliability, but cable internet providers are often not as prominent in rural areas as satellite, wireless and DSL providers.
Why aren’t there more rural internet options?
Installation and operation costs are the main factors preventing ISPs from expanding their networks into rural or suburban markets with low population density.
Satellite and fixed wireless services are common in rural areas because providers can broadcast internet signals over a large area without having to run physical cables to each address. DSL service is also common since the technology largely makes use of existing phone lines, which are readily available in many rural areas.
Coaxial (traditional “cable”) and fiber-optic lines are less accessible in rural areas as the cost of installing lines is often much more than the provider will get in return. This means major cable internet providers like Cox, Spectrum and Xfinity, as well as fiber providers such as AT&T, Google Fiber and Verizon, are less inclined to expand service into rural areas.
Will internet service in rural areas get any better?
The pandemic shed a new light on the digital divide, sparking initiatives by the FCC and some of the top ISPs to bring better broadband availability to previously underserved areas, so there is definitely hope.
It’s doubtful that cable or fiber providers will significantly expand into rural areas, but emerging 5G and satellite technologies could help close the digital divide in coming years. While AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are actively deploying 5G service across the US, Elon Musk and his satellite service Starlink are ramping up to completely disrupt the satellite internet market. Stay tuned for updates regarding these technologies and others that could have an impact on your home internet service, rural or otherwise.