Nearly 90% of Americans have internet access today, but when you leave the city behind, that statistic changes. In rural areas, only about 75% of households have broadband internet service. And in some of the most rural areas, that number drops to less than 70%.
Why is there still such a digital divide with rural internet? Studies show it’s a combination of access and cost. Because it’s expensive to build the infrastructure for cable or fiber internet, traditional internet service providers (ISPs) often don’t provide service in areas with low population.
In today’s world, however, internet access is much more than just a way to access websites and social media; it’s considered a tool for promoting economic development. People need access to work remotely, pursue online educational opportunities, conduct research, pay bills, and connect with friends and family.
For rural residents seeking an internet service provider, or wishing to switch providers, keep in mind that choosing an ISP is about much more than cost.
Other important factors include page-loading speed, video-streaming speed and quality, and how much time you can spend online.
If it’s the first time you’ve had to consider these issues, it can be confusing. So here’s a look at the most commonly available internet options for people living and working outside urban areas, and some information about each.
DSL, which stands for digital subscriber line, uses telephone lines to transmit data.
- Relatively inexpensive and reliable
- Speeds are generally good, but can vary widely.
- Works best when home is located within 3 miles of the company’s central office or hub
- You may have to have land-line telephone service.
- Not the best choice for high-definition streaming, high-volume downloading and file sharing
Relying on a cell or mobile hotspot means you’re using your mobile network for your home internet needs.
- No setup; just slide “hotspot” setting to on
- Mobile; you can take your internet everywhere.
- Easy billing with your monthly cell bill
- Not a good option in areas with spotty or non-existent coverage
- Requires a generous or unlimited data plan
- Not good for streaming. Hotspots don’t always connect to smart TVs or other streaming devices.
- The internet signal leaves the house with the phone, leaving other users without access.
Fixed wireless broadband — sometimes known as a “WISP” — is transmitted from a ground station via radio signals to a subscriber’s home or business.
- Requires minimal infrastructure
- Fixed wireless providers typically don’t set data caps.
- Requires line-of-sight between the ground station and home or business. Even trees can obstruct the signal.
- Service can be negatively affected by rain, fog and other weather.
- Typically more expensive than other broadband services.
- Service can degrade as more subscribers are added.
Delivered from a satellite in space that transmits signals to and from a small antenna — or dish — on your home or business.
- Available almost everywhere, and doesn’t rely on phone lines, cables or other local infrastructure beyond the dish on your home or business.
- Speeds and data packages are good and constantly improving. Viasat offers plans with unlimited data and speeds up to 100 Mbps in some areas – and broadband speeds of 25 Mbps in most others. That’s a lot better than many rural internet providers.
- Resiliency. Satellite can undergo temporary disruptions during some weather events, but is generally not affected by downed power lines or other such issues.
- Many satellite providers now offer unlimited data options, but like many cellphone unlimited plans, speeds may still be temporarily restricted after you use your allotted base data.
The good news: As a satellite internet provider, Viasat goes beyond urban areas where cable and fiber providers can’t — or won’t. In fact, it’s available to 99% of the U.S. population. Viasat offers internet in locations around the globe in a wide variety of markets. This includes underserved communities in urban, exurban, and rural areas.
It’s also fast. In 2022, CNET recognized Viasat as the “Fastest Satellite Internet Provider” on its list of best rural internet service providers.
How to get satellite internet from Viasat
Step 1: Choose a plan
If you choose satellite internet, installation is fast and easy. After you’ve placed an order for service, a Viasat technician will come to your home — typically within 3 to 5 days.
Step 2: Get installed
The technician will find the best placement for your satellite dish, either mounted on your roof, the side of the house or a secure pole mount near the house.
Step 3: Connect all your devices
Once the dish is installed, the technician will set up the modem inside your home, initialize your service and ask you to sign the electronic agreement. They will walk you through billing information and other details you may need to know.
The whole process typically takes two or three hours.