According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, only 72% of rural residents in the U.S. have a home internet connection - which makes it difficult to find a quality internet connection in many rural areas. This number is compared to 79% in suburban areas and 77% in cities.
It's expensive for internet providers to expand internet infrastructure to rural areas, and despite federal incentives, there are many places where slower satellite and DSL connections are the only options.
The lack of availability of high-speed internet in rural and low-income areas is a major problem, but there is hope that it will improve in the next few years. The U.S. government and major ISPs are investing billions of dollars to close the digital divide, and some of the most promising changes include the deployment of satellite internet, the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, and the recently passed infrastructure bill that includes $65 billion for broadband expansion.
When shopping for internet in rural areas, we took a different approach than we would've in more populated areas like cities or suburbs. Cost and speed were still important to us, but we also had to consider data caps and latency because those can be issues in rural areas where internet service may not be as developed as in other places.
Most internet plans these days don’t come with data caps, but that’s not the case with many rural providers. The average American household used 344GB of data per month — well above the data caps on many rural internet plans.
Latency can be a real pain for rural customers, especially when it comes to activities that require quick data transfer, like online gaming, business activity or video calls. Unfortunately, many rural internet providers struggle with this metric, so we wanted to make sure we highlighted plans where it wouldn’t be an issue.
To make finding the best internet service for rural areas easier, we’ve ranked the various types of internet service providers based on pricing, speed and reliability. Fixed wireless internet and 4G LTE Home Internet are the best options for rural residents overall because they offer the fastest speeds at the most reasonable prices, but they are not as widely available as other options like satellite. If you live in a rural area and need an internet connection for working from home, fixed wireless or home internet would be a better option for you if either is available in your area.
Fixed wireless internet is a great option for rural areas where other types of internet access might not be available. It works by using a dish or antenna to receive signals from a cellular tower, and there are a few different technologies that can be used, including point-to-point wireless and 4G LTE. You'll need to be in range of a cellular tower to get fixed wireless internet, but speeds can range from 1 to 1,000 Mbps, so it's definitely worth checking out if you're in a rural area.
The FCC has acknowledged the digital divide in their latest broadband progress report, noting that 14.5 million people living in rural areas lack reliable access to broadband internet. However, a recent study by Microsoft suggests that the number could be closer to 42 million.
In many rural areas, running cable or fiber optic lines is not profitable or even possible, which usually leaves satellite, DSL, and fixed wireless internet as the only internet options.
The rollout of 5G is upon us, and that could mean faster fixed wireless connections for everyone. As Verizon and AT&T update their networks to support 5G technology, fixed wireless internet customers may have access to speeds that are up to 10 times faster than current levels with data limits that are also much higher.
Have you explored all of the internet options near you and still not found what you're looking for? Don't worry, we've got a few more tricks up our sleeve. Here are some more outside-the-box options for rural broadband.
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