The availability of different types of high-speed Internet in your area depends on that area’s population and/or population density, market supply and demand, and physical factors such as topography and even weather. The cruel truth of the telecommunications market is that the highest-performance providers have the least availability, while the most basic providers are available virtually anywhere. Based on this axiom, your options are as follows, in order of least to most available (and thus highest to lowest performance):
Fiber optic networks are the latest and greatest medium for the complete trio of telecom: Internet, television, and phone. Fiber is still relatively young, but new “last mile” network branches are being added all the time, especially in newly developed residential areas where no other medium is predominant. Given the high price of setting up and maintaining these networks, only the mightiest of the giant tele-companies offer fiber – namely Verizon’s FiOS (east & west coast), AT&T’s U-Verse (mainland states), and Google Fiber (certain opt-in states). Each provider has a rather solid stranglehold on the fiber market in specific states and regions. For information on availability, reach out to the appropriate company for your region.
Most modern cable TV providers also offer various data service packages which can be bundled with said TV service for a lower overall expense. Cable Internet is thus available in the same locations as cable TV – contact your current or local cable provider for specifics on speeds/rates and bundle options.
A close competitor to cable in speeds and quality of service is DSL, which operates over phone lines – but on a different frequency from voice, to offer reasonable speeds without ever “tying up the line”. Many phone companies either offer their own DSL service or have a partnership with another telecom provider that does. If you live outside of the effective range of cable service, reach out to your phone provider for information on DSL packages.
If none of the above hardwired connections are available in your area, don’t lose hope! Wireless broadband options are available in many otherwise under-serviced regions. The same inverse proportion still applies:
Some telecommunication companies provide wireless broadband packages, the effective range of which can potentially extend far beyond the web of cable connections found in more urban areas. This is also a popular business model for small local providers who service a single city or county – trying searching online for your county name alongside the word “Internet” and perhaps the phrase “wireless broadband.”
Computers can be tethered to a mobile device in order to connect to the Internet in 3G or 4G service areas. This is possibly the slowest and least stable of the “high speed” options, and it may incur additional charges depending on one’s service plan – however, it is also the second-most widely available option; it is available to anyone who subscribes to a 3G or 4G mobile data plan.
As an absolute last resort, satellite Internet service providers have the most complete coverage of the lot. There are numerous setbacks, though. Even the most economical satellite Internet package is much more expensive than faster, more stable alternatives. Satellite networks are also heavily limited by the nature of the transmission medium – a limit on daily or monthly downloads (in gigabytes) per customer is implemented, upload speeds are often comparable to – or worse than – dial-up, and actual throughput can plummet during peak traffic hours. Even considering all this, satellite Internet is still an option worth considering in rural areas where the only competing service is dial-up. Before reaching out to a satellite ISP directly, speak to your satellite TV vendor (if you have one) to discuss the possibility of bundling services or receiving a promotional discount.
The best way to locate a broadband ISP is to first determine your estimated budget and usage needs, and then go down the above list in order to find your best match. Rural users can also look for local committees formed to pressure telecom providers into expanding their service areas – this is the Information Age; it’s time for everyone to have access when they need it.