Is Satellite the Best Rural Internet Option?

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Life in the country can be great, but remote locations come with the challenge of getting access to services that are more readily available in urban and suburban areas. Finding the best rural internet option is just one of those challenges.

Only about 25% of people in rural and tribal areas have access to broadband internet. Internet service options are limited in these areas, so it is important to compare costs, coverage, and internet speed to help you make the right choice.

The most common services available in rural areas are DSL internet, fixed wireless internet, and satellite internet. So, which is the best option for you? 

Comparing Common Rural Internet Services

Your internet options involve different types of internet connections, so how do you choose? The biggest factor for rural internet is availability. Without access to a service, the other considerations like features and cost become irrelevant.

In general, rural internet will cost more for less speed and data than you’d pay in an urban area. Choosing is a balancing act of speed, data, and cost. Here’s how the common types of internet service in rural areas stacks up.

DSL Internet

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is considered the first form of broadband internet. It was a welcome upgrade from dial-up internet when it became available, given how slow dial-up was and that it tied up the phone line. 

Since DSL uses existing phone lines to transfer data, it is the most accessible of the wireline connection types. DSL is substantially faster than dial-up and it takes advantage of different frequencies not needed for telephone calls, so users can make calls and connect to the internet at the same time.

DSL is capable of download speeds up to 100 Mbps, but speed is determined by your distance from the phone company network hub. DSL speeds are sufficient for general browsing, working from home, and even gaming online. However, it is not ideal for multiple users or devices.

DSL at a glance:

Top Speed: 100 Mbps
Starting cost: $25/mo.
Availability: Widely available depending on location

Fixed Wireless Internet

As the name implies, fixed wireless is an internet connection type that utilizes directional broadcasting. Data is transferred from an access point on a tower to a reception dish at your home. It works similarly to radio and over-the-air TV broadcasts but with more power since the signal can be more focused.

Executed well, fixed wireless can deliver fast speeds between two fixed points. Because it shares the airwaves with other wireless devices, there can be signal congestion in urban areas. In rural areas, there’s less risk of congestion, but you will need a clear line of sight between your dish and the tower. And since it doesn’t rely on existing wireline infrastructure, it can be more broadly deployed. 

Speed and plans vary by provider, but they tend to be comparable to DSL in terms of speed. Fixed wireless speeds are enough for general internet activities, like browsing and sending emails, but may not be enough for streaming video or uploading large files. However, its relatively low latency can make video conferencing and online gaming possible.

Fixed wireless at a glance:

Top Speed: ~100 Mbps
Starting cost: $50/mo.
Availability: Broadly available, but depends on line of sight

Satellite Internet

Satellite delivers internet access by transferring data between a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to a reception dish at your house and at the provider’s network hub. For this reason, satellite internet is one of the most accessible types of internet connection.

Satellite internet provides an attractive option for those in remote communities where other options may not exist. It improves consistently in terms of performance and reliability as new systems are launched into low orbit.

Since satellite internet is capable of high speeds and low latency it is one of the more attractive options for customers in rural locations. It is sufficient for almost any online task, from browsing to streaming video, and supporting multiple users.

Satellite at a glance:

Top Speed: Up to 200 Mbps
Starting cost: $50/mo.
Availability: 99% availability nationwide

Satellite Internet Advantages for Rural Areas

Satellite internet has distinct advantages over the other services commonly found in rural areas. The biggest advantage it has is accessibility. Satellite internet providers are available in 99% of the nation. And, you don’t have be close to a service point to achieve top speeds like you would with fixed wireless or DSL services.

Location and distance are not barriers for high-speed satellite internet.

Satellite internet speeds often rival and surpass those of DSL. Providers continually improve and enhance their existing systems for faster speeds, making for more attractive and robust satellite internet service plans. 

Newcomers, like Starlink internet, are breaking satellite speed barriers with new low-earth orbit satellite constellations. These lower orbit satellites reduce latency and have the potential to provide speeds that compete with fiber internet and cable internet.

Looking for the Best Internet in Rural Areas?

Getting a reliable connection can be harder when you get farther from the urban and suburban areas. If you need rural internet access, satellite may be your best choice for fast and reliable service.

For example, HughesNet internet service offers speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. That’s adequate for connecting a few devices at the same time and a good option if you don’t need super-fast speeds for gaming or video conferencing.

If you need faster speeds, Viasat internet service offers download speeds up to 100 Mbps. One aspect to know about with satellite internet is how much data you can use per month. HughesNet and Viasat both offer unlimited monthly data, but they will cap your high-speed data usage. Check out our resource on satellite data caps for more information on the topic.