Best rural internet provider 2021: Top ISPs compared

Those living in rural areas know better than anyone how difficult it can be to find a good internet service provider. Finding one that covers your area is already a challenge, so finding one that can provide high internet speed is another huge task. 

Generally, your best option for internet in a rural area will be either a satellite or a DSL connection. Satellite connectivity can work almost anywhere, whereas DSL works by hooking up to your existing phone lines. However, wireless technology has also come a long way in recent years. 

*Data as of 09/23/20.


Best for satellite internet

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Viasat

Viasat’s satellite internet is available almost anywhere in the U.S., including rural and remote locations. The company offers satellite technology that can meet or exceed the speeds you would expect from DSL or cable internet providers. Viasat provides several different plans to choose from, with high download speeds.


Best For:

Satellite internet

✗ Not For:

Cheap prices


Features:

  • Satellite: Viasat uses satellites to deliver its internet services. This produces fibre-quality broadband in almost any location. 
  • 10 plans: Viasat offers 10 different plans to choose from, so you can find an internet plan that ticks all the boxes.


Best for customer service

AT&T is a highly affordable and accessible internet provider that excels in customer service. AT&T Fiber manages to deliver ultra-fast speeds while claiming over 99% reliability. However, the AT&T Internet plan offers slightly slower speeds in comparison. Another good thing about AT&T’s internet service is that it promises to have no annual contract.


Best For:

High speeds

✗ Not For:

Those outside the 21 covered states


Features:

  • Fibre: AT&T’s Fiber plan offers high speeds of up to 1000Mbps. Fiber works by using fiber-optic cables that use light waves instead of electrical signals to send data faster.  
  • Bundles: AT&T Internet can be bundled with its TV service, saving $20 a month for the first year. 
  • No data caps: There are no limits on the amount of data you can use, which is great for busy households. 


Best overall rural cable and internet

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Suddenlink

Suddenlink can be found in several states, such as Texas and Louisiana, and is popular in rural areas. Suddenlink’s speeds range from 100Mbps to 1000Mbps, and the 1000Mbps plan comes with a Price for Life guarantee.


Best For:

Price guarantee

✗ Not For:

Those outside of the covered states


Features:

  • Price for Life: This guarantees that the price will not change each year, which gives customers great peace of mind. 
  • Bundling options: SuddenLink offers an internet and TV bundle for just $20 extra per month.
  • Free gift: If you choose the Internet & TV bundle, you could receive a $100 Amazon gift card.


Best for fixed wireless

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Rise Broadband

Rise Broadband uses fixed wireless technology for its rural services, which is a fairly new technology. While Rise Broadband’s service can be just as good as satellite internet, there’s only one plan option with a max speed of 25 – 50Mbps. However, the data cap is unlimited.


Best For:

Fixed wireless technology

✗ Not For:

Fast internet speeds


Features:

  • Fixed wireless technology:  Fixed wireless internet uses radio waves transmitted by a base station rather than a cable. You will need a receiver installed in your home for this. 
  • Easy setup: As fixed wireless technology doesn’t require cables or invasive equipment installation, it’s easier and quicker to set up.


Best mobile provider

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Verizon

Verizon’s mobile hotspots are a great option for those already on a Verizon cell phone plan. If you don’t need a lot of data or fast download speeds, Verizon could be a simple option for you. Another provider may be a better fit for those who need fast speeds due to Verizon’s data caps. 


Best For:

Mobile hotspots

✗ Not For:

High speeds or large data usage


Features:

  • Mobile hotspots: Verizon uses mobile hotspots due to its experience as a mobile provider. If you already have a Verizon cell phone, you can set up with one of their hotspots.  
  • Nationwide coverage: As one of the more recognizable names on the list, Verizon offers nationwide coverage for customers.


Best for nationwide coverage

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CNET

HughesNet is praised for its nationwide coverage and fast speeds. The company guarantees 25Mbps with every plan. However, customers can choose their data limit, which is usually between 10 – 50GB per month. Compared to other providers, those are very low limits.


Best For:

Data limit choice

✗ Not For:

High data use


Features:

  • Nationwide coverage: HughesNet is one of the few providers which has nationwide coverage, making it more accessible than other providers. 
  • Choose your own data limit: Customers can choose data limits between 10 to 50GB per month. 


Best for low starting prices

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Windstream

Windstream offers fast speeds and unlimited internet usage with no data caps. Plans start from just $9.99, and there are three to choose from, depending on your connectivity speed needs. Windstream is ideal for rural locations and uses DSL technology. 


Best For:

No data caps

✗ Not For:

Consistent prices — prices rise after the first year


Features:

  • No data caps: With no data caps, you won’t be limited in your internet usage, meaning you can stream to your heart’s content. 
  • DSL technology: Windstream uses DSL technology, which uses existing phone lines to transport high-bandwidth data to rural communities. 


Best for fixed prices

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CenturyLink Internet

CenturyLink provides wireless internet for those in rural areas and combines its fiber-optic network with wireless technology. CenturyLink has a Price for Life deal that guarantees there won’t be any price hikes. There are also no contracts, credit checks, or cancellation fees.


Best For:

Fixed prices

✗ Not For:

Bundling options


Features:

  • Contracts: Unlike most other providers, CenturyLink offers flexible month-to-month agreements rather than contracts. 
  • High-speed wireless internet: CenturyLink uses its wireless technology and fiber-optic network to supply rural areas with high-speed internet.
  • Speed tester: CenturyLink has a handy “Select your speed” option which shows you the speeds of certain activities depending on which connection you choose. 


Best for fast speeds

Comcast Xfinity

Xfinity

Xfinity Internet from Comcast provides fast internet with speeds between 25 to 2000Mbps. Xfinity is widely available across the U.S., and there are plenty of bundling options to help customers save some money. Xfinity has affordable prices on its lower plans, with plenty of higher plans to upgrade to.


Best For:

Range of plans

 ✗ Not For:

Anyone looking for no contracts


Features:

  • High speeds: Xfinity boasts the highest advertised speeds on this list, so it’s the ideal choice for those who love to stream 4K movies.
  • Customer experience: Xfinity is also the highest-rated internet provider in terms of customer reviews on the Better Business Bureau, with 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Bundling: Xfinity customers have the benefit of accessing some great bundling options. The Internet plan can be combined with TV packages and mobile plans.


Best LTE/4G provider

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Shutterstock

Its nationwide LTE network powers T-Mobile’s connectivity. The provider regularly scores very highly for its download speeds and 4G availability. T-Mobile operates across the U.S., so it’s one of the more accessible services for rural communities. This provider also guarantees that there are no hidden fees, data caps, price hikes, contracts or hardware costs.


Best For:

Accessibility and speed

✗ Not For:

Cheap prices


Features:

  • LTE network: This stands for Long-Term Evolution, which is the standard for wireless internet connections. This technology increases connectivity speed. 
  • Transparent pricing: With no hidden fees, price hikes or inflexible contracts, T-Mobile’s service is ideal for those looking to avoid a long, expensive contract.

Guide to Rural Internet

Check availability

The first step to choosing an internet provider is to look at availability. Living in a rural area makes it naturally more difficult to find a good provider, so this is the first important step. Luckily, checking which providers cover your area is straightforward. You can either check on the provider’s website or use a service such as In My Area.

Decide How Much Speed You Need

When deciding how much speed you need, it’s important to brush up on some terminology first. Upload and download speeds are measured in megabytes per second or MBps for short. 

What speeds you need will depend on your usage. If you’re only browning the internet occasionally, you may not need top speeds. If you are regularly streaming HD or 4K movies, then you will need an internet connection that can keep up without buffering.

Study pricing

When shopping around for internet providers, another thing to bear in mind is the total cost. While each provider will vary, the average price per month for high-speed internet can cost between $43 to $91. It’s worth reading our guide on hidden costs of internet services to get a grasp of how much you may end up paying. 

Consider bundling 

One way to reduce costs is to bundle internet service with other services the company provides. Most bundles that providers offer will include both internet and cable TV. If you’re also looking for a TV service provider, it’s definitely worth looking into potential internet bundles to save some money. 

Look for flexible contracts

As well as bundling options, another thing you can look at is whether the provider offers flexible contracts. No one likes being tied down into a long contract, particularly if you like to shop around each year. Some providers will offer introductory prices but will tie you into a long contract of 12 – 24 months. If you would rather have the flexibility to switch and save money, look into those with flexible contracts. For example, CenturyLink offers no-contract options. 

What is Mbps?

Mbps stands for megabits per second which is the standard of measurement for internet connection speed. This is often confused with Mbps which stands for megabytes per second, which are used to measure upload and download speed.

Is a credit check required for internet service?

Typically, an internet service provider will conduct a credit check on you. This is so the provider can check whether you are likely to keep up with monthly payments for its services. Don’t worry, though; these are usually soft credit checks which do not affect your credit history, so you shouldn’t see any damage if you are turned down for whatever reason.

What is the cheapest rural internet provider?

Based on the starting price, the cheapest rural internet provider is Windstream. However, Windstream is not very upfront about its plan pricing, so you need to get your own personalized quote to see the final price. Xfinity is one of the best value for money and combines reasonable pricing with impressive speeds.

How fast do I need my internet to be?

This all depends on usage. For those who stream a lot of 4K or play lots of online games, you will need a fast download and upload speeds service. Providers like Xfinity and AT&T offer “1GB” speeds of 1000 – 2000Mbps, which are the fastest available. If you don’t use the internet much or live in a smaller household, a provider such as Viasat or Rise Broadband, who provide speeds of around 50Mbps, may be enough for your needs.

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