Fast Internet in Rural Places

This article is outdated. It existed long before Starlink was an option.


Access to the Internet is necessary for both business and personal life. People who live in remote areas need access at reasonable speeds. I often have to explain to people their options and the differences. The purpose of this article is to explain some of the differences and to act as a reference to people considering their options (and to save me from explaining this every day).

What is broadband?

Broadband is a generic term for "faster than dial-up" Internet. Just because your Internet is considered "broadband" does not mean it will be as fast as you are used to in the big city.

Bandwidth and Latency

Before we look at the specific methods available, we need to come to a basic understanding of the difference between bandwidth and latency. We will use the analogy of the plumbing in your house. Bandwidth is the size of the pipe. Only so much "water" can flow through the pipe at one time. It is only so wide. I will spare you technical definitions of bandwidth but you get the idea.

Now to latency, imagine when you turn on the hot water at your water faucet. The "water" starts off cold and gradually becomes warmer and warmer until finally you are getting it nice and hot. This time delay results from the time it takes for the water that is hot in your hot water heater to move to where you are, at the faucet. Latency in a digital communication system is very similar, it takes time for a signal to be sent. Even if the signal is traveling very fast (for example, at the speed of light) there is still a time delay. Latency of 1 second might not sound like much, but try holding a conversation with someone with a 1 second delay. Certain applications, such as online games or voice chatting such as Skype, will not function well or at all in high latency environments.

Don't get confused about what WiFi means…

WiFi is a commonly heard word these days. It describes several different technologies to allow your computer to connect to a network wirelessly. You can connect to a WiFi network with full strength and not even be connected to the Internet!

If you have a wireless access point or a wireless router you can create your own WiFi network.

I feel it is necessary to explain this because most people will want to use WiFi on their laptop. You can get a Cable Modem, a DSL line, a Satellite connection or a Cellular connection and share it via WiFi. WiFi, although it has been used for "last-mile" deployments, it not generally the means you use to get your Internet connection. Once you have a decent connection, you can purchase equipment to create your own WiFi network. If you are interested in deploying a wireless network around your location contact a professional.

Cable Modem / DSL

Ideally, everyone would have a cable modem or a DSL connection.

Cable modems are provided by the same company that gives you cable TV. Examples include Comcast and Charter. Cable modems are generally fast and are a great Internet connection.

DSL lines are provided by phone companies through your phone wiring. They are another form of fast Internet. There are differences between them, and their bandwidth and latency. A comparison of a cable modem and a DSL is beyond the scope of this article. If you have the option to get either in your "rural" area, do it and be thankful as they are far better than the other options. if you have either of these options, then this article is not for you.

A cable modem or a DSL, even at their lowest speeds, are usually far better than the other options available. In urban areas, you can often get speeds exceeding 10 Mbps. The latency is often very low, being from 50-300 milliseconds.

Cable modems and DSL connections are generally available for between $30-$100 per month depending on the speed you want and the company offering it. You do not usually need to purchase any equipment, the Cable modem or DSL modem is generally provided by the company that offers the service.


Dial-up Internet access is available in most parts of the country (if you have phone service). Visiting a modern web site over dial-up Internet can be painfully slow. I recommend avoiding dial-up at all costs. If for whatever reason you must use it, avoid signing a contract. It has always upset me that people are signed up for yearly contracts when it is totally unnecessary. This hinders the process of changing to a faster connection. Many people are also paying $20 per month for their dial-up access. If you look around you should be able to get the same level of service for around $10/month.

If you have a 56K modem, your maximum theoretical speed is 0.056 Mbps (56 kbps). The FCC limits the speed you can connect at to around 53.3 Kbps. The phone lines in your house can have a negative effect on this speed. Older homes are more likely to have an issue with this. The phone lines that run to your house from wherever they come in can also have an effect, and there may be little you can do to change this.

A 1 megabyte file may take around two and a half minutes to download if you are connected at 56kbps.


Satellite Internet is a good option because you can get it almost anywhere in North America. You basically just need a clear view of the southern sky. You generally have to buy some equipment, including a dish or two, and have it installed by a certified installer.

Wildblue and Hughes are the two most popular satellite providers. They both offer reasonable speeds. There are a few differences that can be important in choosing which one.

The primary difference between these two services is with their Fair Access policies. "Fair access" is a nice way of saying, "if you use too much Internet we will cut you off". Wildblue allows you so much download and upload over a 30 day rolling period. So, for example, if you use it all up in one day, your access me be restricted to dial-up speeds for the next month while your usage total goes down. It can be a major problem and can mess you up for a while if you do not carefully monitor your usage. All it takes is one kid with a laptop downloading movies all day to blow your Internet connection for a month.

Hughes does this a bit differently. They restrict you to so much access per day. That way, if you go over for the day you will only be affected for that day. The next day you will have access again. If you are running a resort or you frequently have guests that are going to be using it, Hughes is better in this regard. It may be inconvenient to lose your access for a day, but it beats losing it for 30 days. On the flip side, if you are going to be the only one using it and are willing to monitor your usage, Wildblue has benefits. Occasionally I will need to download a large file that would be larger than what Hughes would allow for a day. Wildblue will let you use all of your bandwidth in one day if you want. Say you buy a new computer and have to run a bunch of "updates" on it. You do not need to perform this update process very often, though when you need to, you can do it at your convenience.

The bandwidth available with Wildblue is around 1.5 Mbps (download) and 0.25 Mbps upload (on their best package), which is plenty fast for most purposes. Hughes offers a variety of plans, and they recently introduced many new options. You can check out their sites at or

The primary issue with the satellite based Internet is the latency. The time delay is about 1 second, perhaps slightly less. As I pointed out before, 1 second may not sound like much but it can have a terrible effect on some things you are trying to do. People that use a "VPN" to connect to their work network may also experience issues. In my tests, I have been able to establish VPN connections over satellite and they do function, just slowly. The satellite companies will tell you that your VPN may or may not work, and it is not their responsibility. Though the VPN will perform much better than it would on dial-up, it is less than ideal.

For example, say you are downloading a 20 minute video clip of whatever (say 50 megabytes), over satellite this will download fine, even if the file is reasonable in size. On the other hand, say you have to send 100 small files that total only 1 megabyte, this will take much longer due to the delay in sending each file. Satellite is great for browsing and doing many things, but for sending files and things that require low latency it is not ideal.

Satellite usually costs between $60 and $90 per month. You usually have to buy a few hundred dollars worth of equipment/installation to get it up and running.

Satellite providers usually require a yearly contract.

If the weather is bad, as in heavy rain or snow, your satellite connection can stop working. It can be frustrating at times when the rain decides to cut off your Internet access. When this occurs I often switch over to my cellular connection. You do not really have any choice but to wait for the weather to improve.


A new option has become more prevalent over the last few years. Many people now get Internet access through the cellular towers. You can buy a card from your wireless phone company that will allow you access to the Internet. This card can go directly into your laptop, or you can buy one that will plug into your desktop as well.

Another option is what they call "tethering". You purchase an Internet plan for you phone, and then you can attach your phone to your computer and use the Internet.

The speed will vary depending on how close you are to the tower and what company you area dealing with. I personally use a combination of Satellite and Cellular when I am in remote locations. When the weather gets bad and the satellite goes down, I switch over to the cellular. The cellular is slower, but it works.

In some cases cellular will be faster than Satellite. If so, I encourage you to use it. If you are lucky, you may get speeds of 1 Mbps or more.

I currently purchase this service through Verizon and pay around $60/month. Sometimes local providers will offer special deals and you can get it much cheaper.

Cellular providers usually require a contract, though many of them will allow you to add/drop data service at your option. Check before purchasing.

Some people only vacation in rural areas and do not want to be stuck with paying for Internet for months when they are not there. Being able to add/cancel this service at your option can be a good solution. You can also keep it active throughout the year and use it at home as well. It is nice to have Internet access almost anywhere you go.

T-1 Line

I feel like I must at least mention a "T1" line. Many people are under the impression that a T1 line is really fast. A T-1 line was extremely fast back in the day, and it was one of the only truly "fast" connections available. A T1 line gives you a speed of 1.54 Mbps.

Most cable modems, some satellite and most DSL lines provide much higher bandwidth than a T1 line. A T1 line usually costs at least $500 per month. It seems strange that people have to pay so much money for a connection of that speed, but that is the way it is.

You can get a T1 line ran to your house or business, but the installation costs may be huge. Up to hundreds of thousands of dollars if they have to run miles of cable.

That being said, it is still an option and if you require a low latency connection it may be your only choice.


Although it is not suitable for all uses, Satellite may be your best option. If you are near a cell tower, cellular may be the fastest option. I personally use a combination of the two and have reasonable results. I am sure at some point many rural areas will have access to fast connections via Cable or DSL. Technologies such as broadband over power lines have shown promise, but have yet to be deployed. There are other wireless variations that will be coming out in the near future and hopefully some of them will lead to better options. For now, stick with Satellite or Cellular, depending on which works best for you.

If you have a lot of files to send or a particularly large file to download, head into town and use the free Internet available at local businesses (if they have a cable/dsl or better connection).

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

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