Satellite is one of the best options for customers in rural areas. Anyone with a clear view of the sky can get broadband from outer space. The two major contenders are Viasat and HughesNet.
- HughesNet: Installation involves adding a satellite dish atop your roof that beams high-speed Internet to your home from space. They charge a one-time $99 fee to lease the equipment, which they install for free, and monthly plans begin at $39.99. HughesNet offers speeds up to 25 Megabits/second (Mbps).
- Viasat: With speeds in some areas up to 100 Mbps but only up to 12 Mbps in other areas, Viasat could be the fastest satellite option in your area. Customers lease equipment, which is paid for monthly or prepaid, and monthly plans start at $50/month.
Unfortunately, satellite providers offer much lower data caps than the major providers. Viasat's plans are technically unlimited; however, after you use up a certain amount of data your speeds will be throttled. HughesNet caps users at 50 GB/month on its highest plan, though the limits are lower for the basic plans. You service does not stop working after you use all your data for the month, but your speeds may be slowed.
Furthermore, satellite service can cut out during rain or snow storms.
Tethering or Personal Hotspot
The past few years have seen the rise of tethering and personal wireless hotspots, a technology that uses your smartphone's data connection to provide a Wi-Fi network wherever you go. Tethering turns your smartphone into a wireless internet provider to which you can connect your laptop and other Internet-capable devices. Tethering could be an excellent option if you live somewhere with a solid 4G LTE wireless connection.
A word to the wise: using a cellphone's data often comes with a data limit (generally 5 to 20 gigabytes), and tethering with a standard unlimited data plan can incur some hefty charges or reductions in speed after a certain point. Be sure to ask your mobile provider for information on pricing and data limits for your plan. As tethering becomes more popular, cell phone service providers have been rolling out new plans that make tethering a more central part of the service.
In addition to tethering, many cell phone providers offer devices specifically designed to provide Internet, either via USB or as a stand-alone device that powers a wireless network. Unfortunately, these were designed for cities and don't work in as many rural areas, though you should look into it.
Long Range Wi-Fi or Fixed Wireless
While most home routers can only broadcast or receive signal for a few dozen yards, long-range directional antennae from Fixed Wireless internet providers can broadcast signals from miles away. Long range Wi-Fi relies upon point-to-point access, and generally needs line-of-sight with no obstructions to work best.
Don't give up hope
Both Federal and State governments are encouraging more broadband deployment for businesses and families in rural areas. Your area may be next on the list to get connected soon, or advancements in wireless and satellite technology may soon limit the need for wired connections. To find all the Internet providers in your area, search by zip code or address here.