Your Guide to Rural Internet and TV during Coronavirus (COVID-19) [UPDATED]

Staying connected to work, friends, family, and the news has never been more important than right now, during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

If you’re scrambling to find a good rural internet solution so you can work from home or keep your kids learning, here are some tips on getting the best rural internet service during the coronavirus pandemic.

How to get a good internet connection in rural areas

Almost every home in the US can get internet through one of the main satellite internet providers: Viasat or HughesNet. These providers offer residential service packages starting at $30-$50 per month.

Although not as widespread as satellite providers, DSL, fixed-wireless, and occasionally cable providers can also be good internet options in rural areas. If you need a better internet provider, check to see what’s available near you using your ZIP code.

Although other internet connection types are often faster and cheaper, satellite internet is the only option for nearly a third of the 46 million Americans living in rural areas. Satellite internet companies Viasat and HughesNet are both making proactive changes to support increased internet needs for people who work from home and online students during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, HughesNet and Viasat signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge from the FCC.

What Viasat and HughesNet are doing during coronavirus (COVID-19) [UPDATED as of 5.19.20]

Viasat

On May 11, Viasat announced it would extend its commitment to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge through June 30. So, what does that mean for its customers? In short, Viasat will not terminate internet service for residents or small businesses that can’t pay their bills due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also means Viasat won’t deal out late fees either, as long as they’re pandemic related. And last but not least, Viasat will continue making its Wi-Fi hotspots open to the public.

HughesNet

HughesNet hasn’t provided an update since March 21, when it announced it would also sign the FCC’s pledge. If you’re looking for more details, you won’t find them on HughesNet’s website (we’ve been checking). HughesNet’s last coronavirus update, via Twitter and Facebook, states: “. . . we will not terminate service or impose penalties or late fees on those who cannot pay due to the impact of the coronavirus.”

HughesNet also says its “speeds have been increased for customers who exceeded their plan” and that “educational tools have been prioritized” (e.g., online portals serving students), but that was in March. It’s not clear at all if that’s still the case or if, like Viasat, it has extended its commitment to the FCC.

Service updates for other internet service providers

More than 750 companies have signed the FCC’s pledge. If you’re looking for more info on other, more centralized ISPs, like Comcast by Xfinity and Spectrum, you can read HighSpeedInternet.com’s guide to internet service during the coronavirus outbreak.

Pro tip: Hotspotting at home

For students and others stuck without access to traditional internet service, hotspotting from your cell phone may be the only option to connect to work or the classroom. For example, Verizon updated its service hours and added hotspot data to plans to help customers stay connected. Most other cellular providers have announced similar benefits as well.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth reaching out to your cellular service provider to see what it’s doing to help its customers at this time. For some people, a mobile hotspot at home or connecting via their smartphone may be enough to meet their digital needs.

How to get satellite TV service in rural areas

You can get satellite TV from almost anywhere, which makes it the best choice for staying entertained during COVID-19 in rural areas. Plus, unlike streaming, it won’t suck up your precious satellite internet data.

DIRECTV is the top pick for sports fans (we know things are bleak now, but we’ll get our live sports back—we promise). DISH pleases bargain hunters who don’t want a price increase the second year, and Orby TV caters to viewers who want a little of everything but aren’t too picky about what they watch (it has more limited channel options but is way cheaper than the other satellite TV options).

Our top pick is DIRECTV, thanks to the option to add on NFL SUNDAY TICKET (offered at no cost with some plans). And just a heads up to discouraged sports fans: you will get the next available season, so if NFL games are suspended or postponed due to the pandemic (like NBA games were earlier this year), you’re all set for the next games.

DISH, on the other hand, has better international programming and a better monthly value than DIRECTV. Orby TV is a cheap, contract-free option. If you’re looking to just sample the cable channels right now without a two-year commitment, you can try Orby for $40/mo. Orby offers an easy self-installation kit, making it a no-stress solution during a pandemic, although they do charge a sign-up fee.*

*Data as of 04/05/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Get free TV with an over-the-air antenna

Until we figure out a plan for the coronavirus, you’re going to be spending a lot of time at home these days—there’s no getting around that. And if you stream a lot of video (like many of us), you might be feeling the COVID-19 pinch on your data usage or internet speed.

If you don’t want to dish out a bunch of money for satellite TV, get an over-the-air antenna. You won’t have access to as many channels, but you will get local channels for free.

If you live within 35–80 miles of broadcasting stations, you can order an antenna on Amazon that sticks to your window or wall. It’ll give you all the free TV channels you remember growing up with. .

Here are DIY TV antennas we’ve tried recently and would recommend. These were easy to set up and don’t require any tools or additional equipment:

Some fancier antennas claim to reach up to 150 miles, but we haven’t tested their power firsthand, so we can’t recommend dropping a few hundos without checking out other options first. Also, bear in mind that the distance quoted is “up to” and will be reduced by hills, mountains, and other geographical features.

Stay connected during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Getting stay-at-home orders or choosing to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic for the sake of vulnerable family members can be stressful. By using the tips in this guide, we hope you can find ways to stay connected with coworkers, school teachers, doctors, friends, and family during COVID-19. You can upgrade your internet connection, video chat with your brother, or watch local news updates on the coronavirus with a new peel-and-stick TV antenna.

As we brace ourselves for more time at home and away from dear ones, we encourage you to discover meaningful ways to connect with each other. Share what works for you with friends and family when they ask you how to stay connected online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Back to top