When your home is far away from skyscrapers and noise pollution, your options for high-speed internet may be limited, but they’re never zero. While most internet service providers (ISPs) don’t have the budget to build more infrastructure in rural areas, some providers do offer high-speed internet for countryside folks. The FCC defines high-speed internet as minimum download speeds of 25 Mbps, which is essentially all you need to stream movies or TV shows in 4K. But, in all reality, we wouldn’t settle for that speed, and neither should you! Our guide covers the rural internet providers that offer the fastest speeds. That way, you can stay connected no matter where you live.
What Are the Internet Options for Rural Areas?
In places where your nearest neighbor is either a farmer or a mountain lion, you won’t have much luck finding cable or fiber internet connections, but you may come across 5G home internet — a new fighter in the ring of providers that offer fast internet speeds. Its predecessor, 4G LTE, has more availability but slower speeds. Next in line is satellite, the popular kid of the bunch, followed by fixed wireless and DSL (digital subscriber line), who are in the picture but placed in the back row. These internet options make the most appearances in rural areas.
Insider Insights: While not a significant rise but a rise nonetheless, the Pew Research Center reported a 9 percent increase in home broadband adoption since 2016 and that six out of every 10 rural Americans have a high-speed home internet connection.
5G Home Internet
The latest and greatest in wireless technology, 5G home internet goes toe-to-toe with cable and fiber internet, delivering gigabit speeds and ultra-low latency via data transmission between a cell tower and a router. T-Mobile and Verizon offer 5G home internet, with the latter covering more than 30 million homes and over 2 million businesses in the U.S. Ever since the FCC launched the 5G Fund for Rural America, 5G infrastructure in rural areas has steadily grown, bridging the digital divide.
4G LTE Home Internet
Similar to 5G home internet, 4G LTE home internet sends signals between a 4G LTE cell tower and a router in your house. While 4G LTE is becoming yesterday’s news with the expansion of 5G, it’s still a viable option for those who live in areas where 5G isn’t available. Speeds aren’t as fast and connections aren’t as reliable as with 5G, but they get the job done. Ultra Mobile, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer 4G LTE home internet for those who don’t have 5G access.
As much as some people would like to believe that satellites are communicating with aliens, the satellites orbiting Earth are actually talking to the satellite dish mounted on the roof of your home. They transfer and translate data to your router, which sounds like a lot of work, but it happens in seconds. Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink are the cream of the crop in the satellite category.
Fixed Wireless Internet
Imagine fixed wireless as a telepath, but instead of brain waves, it sends radio waves. As a “last mile” technology, fixed wireless fills the gap between the mainstream internet backbone and your home. The radio waves travel from an access point mounted on a tower to a reception device or dish poking up from your house. All of the magic happens wirelessly, though it doesn’t always produce the fastest results.
DSL keeps things old school by using copper telephone lines to pass digital signals between an ISP and your home. In comparison, it’s faster than dial-up internet and keeps up with satellite and fixed wireless internet speeds. We recommend choosing DSL if you don’t have other internet options available in your area, like fixed wireless, cable, or fiber. See how DSL compares to cable internet and whether it’s the right choice for you.
How Do I Find Rural Internet Providers Near Me?
Thankfully, finding out which ISPs are in your area is super easy. You can use our comprehensive search toolbar, which asks you to input your ZIP code and select internet or TV as the service you’re looking for. You can also check availability by address or share your location (only if you’re comfortable, of course). If you have a specific provider in mind, they should have their own search toolbar that lets you see if they service your area.
Who Are the Best Rural Internet Providers?
We hand-selected the following providers based on speed and connection type — two important factors to consider in your search for rural internet. You want options, certainly, but you really want the best and fastest options that cover remote areas.
Download speed (up to)
Upload speed (up to)
5G, 4G LTE
5G, 4G LTE
1 Gbps (5G)
50 Mbps (4G LTE)
12-150 GB, unlimited option available
3-25 GB, unlimited option available
The competition isn’t as fierce for cable and fiber internet in metropolitan areas, but you at least have several options to choose from. Viasat and HughesNet have nationwide coverage, so if the other providers aren’t available, you always have these two to fall back on.
Buyer's Tip: Most rural internet providers’ data caps aren’t very generous. When choosing unlimited data plans, compare your options and make sure your speeds won’t get bogged down during traffic congestion.
What Are My Alternative Internet Options in Rural Areas?
Wait, there’s more? Why yes, and as a matter of fact, you might find that these alternative rural internet options meet your needs better than the usual ones.
White Space Internet
White noise either helps us focus or get better sleep, but that static sound has another job: It carries internet signals in between TV broadcasts. Just think of it as a hybrid of old and new technology. Not many providers offer white space internet, but it’s good to know that an alternative exists.
If you don’t remember the torturous wait of logging on with dial-up internet, you’re probably young. Dial-up is the cheapest option, but it’s not Sonic-the-Hedgehog fast. If a telephone line exists and you have a modem that’s compatible with the dial-up service, you’re all set.
5G and 4G LTE take on the form of mobile hotspots too. For rural folks who travel or live in an RV, a mobile hotspot is the best way to secure an internet connection on the go. You can either connect with your smartphone or a standalone device, but remember to check if the provider offers service in rural areas. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are contenders for mobile hotspots.
Where Is Rural Internet Headed?
Depending on whom you’re following on social media, you’re probably familiar with Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture. Believe it or not, Musk, along with Boeing and Amazon, are investing in private satellites to launch into space and sell internet connections to customers almost anywhere in the world. Starlink, a division of SpaceX, has more than 2,000 satellites in orbit and serves more than 10,000 users. The way Starlink satellites work is a batch of them gets blasted off into low-earth orbit to build a bigger network of interlinked satellites. They find their final positions, closer to us than traditional satellites, and provide high-speed connections along with low latency.
Aside from the projects that billionaires throw their money at, providers like T-Mobile and Verizon have been rolling out 5G in both cities and rural areas. One of the FCC’s top priorities is to expand broadband access to locations where there is little to none. That said, don’t count on a sudden spike in rural internet coverage. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rural Internet
What is a good internet speed in rural areas?
The recommended internet speed is 25 Mbps, and rural internet providers’ speeds range between 25 Mbps to 1 Gbps, depending on the connection type.
What is the fastest rural internet connection type?
5G home internet can be the fastest if you’re lucky enough for it to reach gigabit speeds. For more reliable, consistent speeds, satellite internet is your best bet.
Why aren’t there more rural internet providers?
Companies don’t have the budget to build out infrastructure in areas with a very small population. One of the FCC’s goals is to resolve the digital divide.
Why is rural internet so slow?
Most if not all rural internet providers place a low data cap on their services. Satellite internet providers like Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink do offer unlimited data plans.
How can I improve my rural internet speed?
Consider switching to a fixed wireless, satellite, or 5G home internet provider if you have dial-up or DSL internet. Speeds are typically faster and more reliable.