The Best Rural Internet Providers for 2021

The Best Rural Internet Providers for 2021
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We have schedules, rates, and pricing for the top three big internet providers in rural America. Since few internet providers create networks in small towns, your internet choices in rural areas are minimal. In rural America, however, Xfinity, CenturyLink, and Viasat all provide internet access.

We prefer Xfinity to the other two internet providers. According to our survey results, it is the fastest and most reliable—plus, it provides plenty of info, allowing you to use the internet you pay for.

Best rural internet providers

Xfinity is the strongest rural cable internet provider.
CenturyLink is the strongest rural DSL internet provider.
Viasat is the best rural satellite internet provider.

From top to bottom, we suggest the rural internet providers mentioned above. Cable internet is generally faster and more dependable than DSL, and satellite internet is a decent backup if your region lacks any grounded internet lines such as cable or DSL.

Comparing Top Rural Internet Providers

Xfinity 
Starting price: $19.99–$64.99/mo.
Download speeds: 15 Mbps–250 Mbps
Connection type: Cable

CenturyLink
Starting price: $49.00/mo.
Download speeds: 15–100 Mbps 
Connection type: DSL

Viasat
Starting price: $30.00–$150.00/mo.
Download speeds: 25 Mbps–100 Mbps
Connection type: Satellite

In rural areas, cellular hotspot internet (which can be expensive) and dial-up (which is still available) is still available, but we've focused on satellite, DSL, and cable. Since fiber internet is still a unicorn in several major cities, it isn't included.

Xfinity: The best rural cable internet

Price: $19.99–$64.99/mo.
Max download speeds: 25–400 Mbps
Data caps: 1,200 GB

Xfinity provides a high-speed connection that comes with a bit low price. However, it has limited availability in rural areas and degraded signal over distance>

The cable is the finest internet service most rural areas can hope for, and Xfinity provides the most coverage of any provider. The business, which is owned by Comcast, has coaxial lines running through 40 states, with a focus on the Rockies.

Unfortunately, cable internet of any kind is hard to come by in most rural areas, so if it's accessible in your region, we recommend getting it, particularly if it's from Xfinity.

One major drawback to cable internet, regardless of provider, is that data does not carry well over long distances. The signal that ultimately reaches you degrades the farther you are from a cable provider's service point. And if you are able to obtain cable service, it could be of poorer quality and speed than advertised.

CenturyLink: The best in Rural DSL Internet

Price: $49.00/mo.
Max download speeds: 15–100 Mbps
Data caps: 1,000 GB

CenturyLink has an open contract and comparatively low monthly rates. However, it is limited availability in rural areas and degraded signal over distance.

CenturyLink DSL, or internet distributed over regular telephone lines, is available in 36 states, including many remote areas in the Northwest and Midwest. Since phone lines are more popular outside of urban grids than cable, if you live in a rural area, you're more likely to have a DSL connection.

CenturyLink DSL appeals to us because of its low monthly rates and quick download speeds, as well as its widespread availability. If CenturyLink is available in your region, we recommend it as one of our top-five cheap internet providers.

CenturyLink offers fiber internet as well, but it's much more uncommon outside of cities than Bigfoot sightings and Pottery Barn stores.

Viasat: Best Rural Satellite Internet

Price: $30.00–$150.00/mo.
Max download speeds: 12 Mbps–100 Mbps
Data caps: 12–300 GB

Widely available and high download speed. However, it is expensive and spotty performance.

The good news is that satellite internet is not dependent on land-based networks and can be accessed by anyone with a clear view of the sky.

The bad news is that, while satellite dish-delivered internet is great for TV, it only has sub-DSL speed and stability. Factors such as distance from the satellite or inclement weather may also reduce or eliminate the pace.

Surprisingly, the same satellite dish that can beam pristine, HD-quality TV into your home can only transmit a fraction of the signal when it comes to internet access. In terms of results, cable TV and the internet are on par; satellite TV and the internet are poles apart.

Viasat is the better of the two satellite internet providers (HughesNet and Viasat). It offers a wide range of plans and, at least in theory, fast download speeds. Viasat advertises download rates of up to 100 Mbps (megabits per second), which is comparable to DSL and allows you to simultaneously stream shows and movies when surfing the internet.

Satellite internet can be unstable and sluggish at times, but at the very least, it is exorbitantly expensive—just keeping it real here. Aside from monthly base rates that can reach $150, Viasat's needed equipment isn't inexpensive, and you're locked into a two-year deal. There's also the question of data overages (Viasat claims its plans are "unlimited," but exceeding those data limits will result in speed throttling and monetary penalties).

In other words, satellite internet can only be used as a last resort—and Viasat is by a slim margin the better option for that last resort.

Other Options for rural internet services

Cellular Hotspot

Have you ever wondered what the "Mobile Hotspot" button on your phone was for? It basically transforms your phone (and its data) into a virtual modem/router that links you to the internet over a cellular network.

If you don't want to use your phone, you can purchase a separate MiFi kit that does the same thing while still allowing you to play Fortnite.

Using a cellular mobile hotspot for internet access is convenient, but it can be costly, depending on the carrier's data cap and overage fees. Also, the distance from the nearest cell tower has an impact on performance—if the quality of your phone calls is poor in your region, the internet will be no better.

Dial-up Internet

Real, millions of Americans still use dial-up internet from the 1990s—knock us out with a floppy disk. Dial-up internet is a cheap and easy way to check email and weather forecasts for remote areas wired with telephone lines but not serviced by DSL providers (if little else).

With dial-up internet, “cheap” is subjective because you're paid by the minute, not by the month (as some Gen-Xers can recall). When you combine the ticking clock with download speeds of less than 1 Mbps, any possible savings are gone.

Final Thought

When it comes to rural broadband, Xfinity has the most advanced infrastructure and has the highest speeds at a competitive price. CenturyLink is a viable alternative, but it offers less value for money. Although Viasat's satellite internet isn't as good as cable or DSL, it's better than having no internet at all.

Our recommendations for rural internet aren't cheap, but they'll get you connected if your choices are small. To see the services are available in your area, look at our availability map or enter your zip code below.