Rural Broadband: The Lowdown on High Speed

What's the big deal with broadband?
In a world that puts more and more emphasis on being 'connected' it is vital to stay current with advancing technologies. Having access to high-speed internet is the first step to being connected. Click here for the Center's page on the importance of Rural Broadband in community development and entrepreneurship.

The internet has a wealth of information on practically every imaginable subject. With such a valuable resource available, affordable access to a fast and reliable connection is an important tool to renew rural America.

With certain options not available in remote rural areas, it is important for people to know and understand their options.

What speed means
The speeds below are advertised speeds. Due to a number of factors, advertised speeds are rarely actually reached. This data is for convenient comparisons and will help to understand the speeds given below.

Average Web Page - 400 Kilobits including images

  • 256Kbps download speed - roughly 1.56 seconds to view page
  • 2Mbps download speed - roughly 0.195 seconds to view page
  • 8Mbps download speed - roughly 0.048 seconds to view page

Average MP3 (music) - 24 Megabits (3 megabytes)

  • 256Kbps download speed - roughly 2 minutes and 8 seconds to download
  • 2Mbps download speed - roughly 16 seconds to download
  • 8Mbps download speed - roughly 4 seconds to download

Dialup Connection

This type of internet uses basic telephone lines and telephone service to provide users with a connection to the internet. A user simply dials into an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the user and ISP simply transfer information back and forth through basic phone lines.


  • Highly accessible  
  • No new infrastructure needed  
  • Simple and cheap - around $15 per month for the highest speed


  • Very slow, maxing out at 56kbps
  • Uses a standard phone line; making and receiving phone calls is impossible while connected

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

Also uses phone lines. By splitting the phone line into separate voice and data streams, the telephone company can offer greater bandwidth and not interrupt regular telephone service.


  • Speeds up to 10 Mbps (200 times faster than dialup)
  • Monthly cost of about $20 for lower speeds
  • Single user system (considered more secure)
  • Phone service and Internet bundles available


  • Speed is based on proximity to telephone station
  • Impossible to amplify speed [not sure what "amplify speed" means - marie]
  • Unsuitable for more remote locations


Cable modems connect to the internet through existing cable lines - the same ones that supply cable television. Cable uses what are essentially television channels to transfer data. Transferring data along the existing coaxial cables gives cable much higher bandwidth than DSL or dialup.


  • Highly reliable
  • Speeds up to 20 Mbps
  • Television and Internet bundles available
  • Prices are usually around $50 and up per month


  • This is a multi-user system
  • Connection can lag during peak usage hours
  • Only available where cable is available


This is a connection that works the same as satellite television. Data is sent from a ground base to an orbiting satellite, bounces off and is retrieved by a receiver in your home.



  • Available in most remote areas
  • Much faster than a dialup connection
  • A variety of plans are available


  • Slower speeds (768kbps to 5.0Mbps)
  • Data plans limit access
  • Plans range generally from $50 to $120 for limited data transfer
  • Service can be altered by storms and weather
  • High installation costs

Terrestrial Wireless

This form of connection is much like a wireless router one would find in a home or business. This form of connection transmits a wireless signal over great distances to a receiver on the consumer's property.



  • Accessible in more remote areas
  • Speeds comparable to DSL
  • No data limits
  • Reliable connection
  • More affordable option for remote locations


  • Limits in range
  • Must have line of sight to tower
  • Installation costs higher than DSL or cable


This connection type is a highly mobile connection used mostly for travel and for laptops. A small receiver can be purchased to receive a 3G signal on a laptop or computer.


  • Very portable
  • Reliable connection when in a serviceable area
  • Mobile phone and Internet bundles available


  • Expensive service
  • Data limits apply to plans
  • Coverage is not universal
  • Very expensive charges if you exceed your data limit

Terms to Know

Bandwidth- a connection's capacity to transfer data

Bundle- grouping internet services with other services such as television or phone to save money


Links & Resources

This Web page is an excellent resource for information about the types of connections available and also provides information for specific providers for quick comparisons.

This Web site provides general information on the different types of internet connections. 

This is an article that focuses on available options for more remote areas.

This site features information about cable modem internet.

This site is a great reference for internet speeds and understanding what speed means.

This site checks the speed you are currently getting from your internet provider, which you can then compare to what they advertised.

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