Internet options for rural living in the US

A Jay

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Hey everyone,

Wanted to share some useful internet solutions and a great resource for further research in case peeps in rural (or not so rural) locations here in the US have issues finding a good ISP but don't know what options might be out there for them.

More information on the internet solutions I list can be found on a website called the Mobile Internet Resource Center. It has been a really great resource for learning what all is out there in terms of mobile internet solutions and covers way more than I'll list here. However, I wanted to highlight a few things that could be particularly useful for rural peeps with ISP issues but still have some cell providers with decent signal.

The best thing that I've seen on the MIRC's list of top picks for cellular internet solutions is the Calyx Institute's membership program. It's a quarterly or yearly membership that gives access to an unlimited and unthrottled 4G/LTE data plan and includes a hotspot device. The institute is a non-profit company that works to provide different internet privacy solutions including a free and open-source VPN, an open-source encrypted backup app for Android, a freely available instance of Jitsi's open-source videoconferencing software, and more. I've not tried these other offerings yet, but will definitely be trying them out over time as they're a pretty cool little company that's dedicated to internet privacy.

Back to their unlimited data offering, the membership is paid up front and so it seems a little pricey ($500/year for the first year and $400/year thereafter, or $600/year if you pay the $150 every quarter), but their price per month is great compared to other mobile internet options. Add on that it's unthrottled and unlimited and it's a heck of a bargain compared to the more expensive hotspot plans sold by cell providers which are either capped, throttled, or both. The only issue is that it uses Sprint towers, but as the T-Mobile/Sprint merger continues to roll out this will be less and less of an issue.

The last thing to mention about them is that they have two hotspot devices currently available, but the best one is the Linkzone 2 from Alcatel because it has better battery life and is USB tethering capable. If you have a USB tethering capable router you can plug the Linkzone 2 into the router and have unlimited LTE data as either a primary or back-up internet option for as low as $33.34/month. (As an aside, they offer a free t-shirt when you sign up for their membership and it is the softest shirt I've ever owned. I love it and it may or may not have influenced my review of their services. ;-D)

Another good option is T-Mobile's Magenta plan with the Global 15GB add on that gives customers unlimited and unthrottled tethering ability domestically. It's a good bit more expensive ($120/month) than Calyx's membership program. However, it's still a solid option that may work for some people who, for instance, don't have Sprint towers around or where the Sprint/T-Mobile merger hasn't occurred yet.

The next good option is AT&T's Business Unlimited Elite plan with 100GB hotspot/tethering. It being a business plan you do need an EIN to sign up and it being only 100GB of hotspot data is not really suited as a primary source of internet for heavy/multiple internet users. That said, it's slightly cheaper than the T-Mobile Magenta plan and may be worthwhile for one person who has access to an EIN and has an AT&T tower nearby but not a T-Mobile tower. You can see the nearest towers to you and who owns them by going and checking here.

Next, cell providers are rolling out something called 'LTE home internet' which I think is something similar to a Calyx offering though probably more expensive and capped. You can just search 'LTE home internet' and then whatever cell provider is best in your area to see if they offer something in your neck of the woods. Not many places are covered but they're all working on expanding this service and it may be something to keep an eye on depending on your needs.

There are other options like MVNOs, but those aren't very reliable as they "hack" SIM cards in order to offer unlimited and/or unthrottled plans and the original providers cancel the services, often without notice, pretty quickly after a company starts selling them. You may get a couple weeks or a couple of months of service but it's such a shot in the dark that it's best to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

Satellite is another option for rural peeps, but since it's usually pretty expensive, not that fast, and capped it's also not a great option unless there really isn't anything else. Elon Musk's Starlink program could be a game-changer for satellite internet, but it's not fully available just yet so we'll have to wait and see how it develops.

Hope this was helpful and useful for peeps with internet issues and maybe gives some new ideas and options for exploring how to improve less than ideal internet situations. Any comments, questions, or other ideas are of course more than welcome.
 

SevenFeathers

Jedi Council Member
I live out in the country in central Texas. I currently use AT&T as my internet provider, as I need wired service for my work. I am at the "end of the line" as far as speed goes, but it works fine, both for my work and for watching movies. The price is not bad (about 65 per month). It works for me at this time, but if I don't need 'wired' in the future (if there is one!), I will try something else.
 

Straycat

The Force is Strong With This One
Rural Montana a few miles up a dirt road. Our options are wired DSL from Centurylink. That's it. There's no cell signal here because we're surrounded by mountains and trees. Satellite doesn't seem to work well out here due to both obstacles and winter weather. I'm able to work from home with the wired connection and watch videos, which is adequate for our needs. Fewer available services tends to be one of the trade-offs for being able to live rurally.
 

A Jay

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I live out in the country in central Texas. I currently use AT&T as my internet provider, as I need wired service for my work. I am at the "end of the line" as far as speed goes, but it works fine, both for my work and for watching movies. The price is not bad (about 65 per month). It works for me at this time, but if I don't need 'wired' in the future (if there is one!), I will try something else.

Doesn't sound like a bad option, and now you know of others that might work just as good or better and where to look for more info in case you want to look for something different later on.

Rural Montana a few miles up a dirt road. Our options are wired DSL from Centurylink. That's it. There's no cell signal here because we're surrounded by mountains and trees. Satellite doesn't seem to work well out here due to both obstacles and winter weather. I'm able to work from home with the wired connection and watch videos, which is adequate for our needs. Fewer available services tends to be one of the trade-offs for being able to live rurally.

Here's a couple of videos of people who have Starlink set up in Montana and it seems to be working great for them:



Don't know your specific location and what line of sight issues you might face, but even in winter weather conditions the speeds the one guy was getting was pretty darn impressive. Might be something to look into if you haven't already.

Like I said, I think Starlink could be a game changer for the satellite internet markets. Not just because of the actual product and service itself but because it will cause other satellite internet companies to do some serious innovating in order to stay competitive. Given some time I think this ISP market niche will be looking pretty darn good for people like yourself.
 
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