Rural internet is improving, but it can still be a challenge to find quality home internet. Here are the providers we'd recommend most.
Living in a rural area has its advantages, but it may also come with a lack of quality broadband options. A wired connection, like the one you get with CenturyLink, our pick for best rural internet provider overall, will often be your best option, if available. Other wired rural ISPs such as Kinetic by Windstream, Mediacom and Ziply Fiber are great choices for a high-speed, low-cost broadband connection as well.
In areas without access to fiber, cable or phone lines, a wireless internet service, such as fixed wireless internet from Rise Broadband or 5G home internet from T-Mobile may be your best options. Then, of course, there's always satellite internet from HughesNet or Viasat if no other more practical broadband services are available in your area.
So which rural internet provider is best for your home? Here are my picks for the best providers that are most likely to be available in rural areas, all of which were chosen based on factors including coverage, speeds, pricing, data caps and customer satisfaction. Other than listing my top two picks for rural internet service providers first, providers are listed in no particular order.
Locating local internet providers
Locating local internet providers
Aside from satellite internet providers and T-Mobile, CenturyLink has arguably the greatest coverage area of any ISP, largely spanning suburban and rural areas across 36 states coast to coast. Most of that coverage comes from its DSL network, which means many rural residents within CenturyLink service areas will likely only be eligible for DSL service.
The good news is that many DSL customers will be able to get broadband speeds or higher -- that's download speeds up to 25Mbps and upload speeds of 3Mbps -- while some may be eligible for max download speeds of 100Mbps or higher. So in short, CenturyLink can meet or beat the internet speeds of satellite internet in most service areas, and service comes with a lower starting price ($50 per month), unlimited data and no contracts.
If CenturyLink's fiber service, Quantum Fiber, is available in your area, consider yourself lucky. Quantum Fiber comes with two plan options: 200Mbps starting at $30 per month or gig service starting at $70 per month. Either plan is a massive upgrade from satellite, DSL or other rural internet connection types, so I'd recommend deciding which speed you need and going with CenturyLink's fiber service if it happens to be available.
Kinetic by Windstream also received a 6.7/10 in our review, but falls short of CenturyLink in total coverage area. That said, it's an excellent choice for rural internet as the provider has some of the fastest DSL speeds and one of the greatest fiber network percentages of any rural ISP.
Kinetic offers internet service in 18 states total across the Midwest, South and Eastern US. Though available primarily in rural and suburban areas, nearly a third of Windstream's network uses fiber technology. Where fiber service is available, Kinetic customers can get download and upload speeds ranging from 25 up to 1,000Mbps. These speeds make Kinetic ideal for streaming over wireless connections and online gaming, activities that are often a challenge with rural internet service.
Service areas not eligible for fiber will have to settle for DSL, but Kinetic's DSL network is better than most. The majority of serviceable households will have access to broadband speeds or higher, while roughly two-thirds can get download speeds up to or higher than 100Mbps.
Regardless of the available network, Kinetic is a great choice for unlimited rural internet service, as all plans come with no data caps or contracts.
As a cable provider, Mediacom can deliver much faster and more reliable speeds than DSL, satellite or fixed wireless service, but its service reach is more limited. Mediacom is available to just over 2% of US residents with service areas across much of the Midwest and South, as well as parts of California and Delaware.
Still, Mediacom is one of the best cheap internet providers for rural areas with service starting at just $20 a month. Just know that the cheapest Mediacom plan only comes with 200GB of data, and going over the limit can add up to $50 to your bill. More data is available with higher-tiered plans, up to 6 terabytes, but no Mediacom plan offers unlimited rural internet service.
Pricing goes up on all Mediacom plans after the first year and settles somewhere around the industry average for cable internet providers. Still, starting prices of $20-$80 per month aren't bad, especially for a rural internet connection.
Rise Broadband is a leading fixed wireless internet provider with service available to around 6% of US households, many of which are in rural areas. Coverage spans 16 states with Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and Utah having the greatest serviceability.
Similar to satellite internet, fixed wireless service from Rise Broadband requires no direct wires to the home, making it accessible to those in rural areas where cable, fiber-optic and even telephone lines do not reach. Where available, Rise Broadband would be my choice over satellite internet, as the provider offers speeds up to 50Mbps, latency low enough to support online gaming, and truly unlimited data options, all for a relatively low price compared to satellite.
Rise Broadband is also a great choice for Wi-Fi in rural areas with Premium Wi-Fi and Premium Mesh Wi-Fi service available as add-ons to all internet plans.
You read that speed range correctly: Ziply Fiber offers multigigabit internet speeds with 2Gbps, 5Gbps and now 10Gbps plans available in select -- and rural -- areas throughout the Northwest.
The fastest Ziply plan may be more speed than you need, and more than you want to pay at $300 per month, but other Ziply plans present a bit more affordability without having to sacrifice too much speed. Ziply's entry level plan, for example, starts at just $20 per month for symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 50Mbps. There's also a 200Mbps speed tier starting at $40 per month. All plans come with unlimited data and no contract requirements.
Ziply has an impressive fiber network, but only about half of Ziply service areas are eligible for fiber service, according to the FCC. All others will rely on a DSL network which, like most DSL services, presents one plan option for the fastest speeds available. In the case of Ziply Internet, the DSL service, that plan starts at $50 per month for speeds up to 115Mbps. Again, that's the fastest possible speed. Many customers may only be eligible for speeds that are much slower.
The arrival of 5G is exciting news for your phone, but the technology could also improve home internet connectivity, especially if you're in a rural area. So far, T-Mobile has the greatest 5G availability with coverage reaching 30 million homes across 40 states. Around a third of those homes are in rural areas, according to T-Mobile.
If your address is eligible for T-Mobile 5G home internet, you'll have one plan option: $50 a month for the fastest speeds available. The plan also comes with no data caps or contracts, and equipment is included at no additional cost
Actual speeds will vary by address, but will probably fall between 33-182Mbps. I can't say those speeds are particularly impressive, but they are faster than you can expect from satellite service, without the hassle of data caps and contracts. Another thing of note on speeds, T-Mobile home internet service may occasionally fall back to 4G LTE service, which means speeds can further dip and vary.
Slow speed is one of the biggest downsides to satellite internet, but in many areas, Viasat's speeds are higher than those of its main satellite internet rival, HughesNet. While HughesNet download speeds top out at the broadband threshold of 25Mbps, Viasat customers can sign up for 50Mbps or 100Mbps in select areas.
But with great(ish) speed comes (not-so) great pricing. Viasat is the most expensive rural broadband provider you'll find, with service starting at $70 per month for speeds as low as 12Mbps, not to mention an added $13 per month for equipment. If you want the fastest speeds, 100Mbps, it could cost up to $300 or more per month. There's also a price hike after just three months of service that could add $30, $50 or $100 to your bill, depending on the plan.
Viasat is the fastest satellite provider with coverage in all 50 states, but perhaps not for long. Elon Musk's Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper have injected a lot of interest into the category, and consumers should keep an eye on names like those in the coming years.