The best satellite internet Free providers

The best satellite internet Free providers
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Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed. *Viasat prices listed are for the first three months only; after the introductory period, prices rise to $50–$200/mo. †Starlink available in a limited area during the public beta.

Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet deliver satellite internet with reasonable broadband speeds to most small towns and rural areas in the US. Although both providers have data restrictions, they have the advantage of being available in areas where cable, fibre, and even phone lines do not reach. Starlink jumps into the ring in late 2020 and gradually expands coverage over the next year. For now, Viasat and HughesNet provide nationwide service, so you can choose between the two wherever you live.

HughesNet and Viasat offer several unlimited satellite internet plans. However, they bear in mind that they limit the amount of full-speed data you can use each month. Once you reach your "data threshold" for the month, you can keep using data (an unlimited amount), but your download speeds will slow down to 3 Mbps or less.

The best satellite internet Free providers


How does Starlink's internet compare to other satellite internet plans?


Starlink delivers ample connection speeds to rural areas, with unlimited data and very low latency. Although the initial setup cost is high ($499 for the router and satellite dish), Starlink's monthly $99 price is reasonable for satellite service with unlimited data. 

Starlink satellite internet (from SpaceX) is available in select locations. However, it is in a beta testing phase, so the company has warned customers that service interruptions may occur. Starlink's coverage area is currently limited to North American residents who live in the swath of land between the latitudes of 45 to 53 degrees (roughly the line of the Wyoming/Montana border up to Edmonton, Alberta).

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When are Project Kuiper and OneWeb coming?


Looking ahead, a few new providers are launching residential satellite internet service in the next few years. Project Kuiper (from Amazon) is also building a satellite internet constellation. However, customers probably will not be able to sign up for Amazon internet for several years. 

OneWeb, which was recently purchased by Bharti Global and the British Government, has announced plans to resume satellite launches as soon as December 2020 and may offer limited service to Arctic regions by late 2021. OneWeb expects to have full coverage offered globally sometime in 2022.

Satellite internet providers summary


Viasat: Available nationwide

HughesNet: Available nationwide

Starlink: "Better than Nothing" beta launched November 2020

OneWeb: Expected to launch in 2022 (possibly sooner in Arctic regions)

Project Kuiper: Expected by 2026 or earlier (based on the deadline set by FCC)

Discontinued satellite ISPs

dishNet: No longer available, but you can bundle DISH with internet from other providers

EarthLink: Discontinued satellite internet but now sells HughesNet internet.

Exede: Changed branding to Viasat

WildBlue: Acquired in 2009 by Exede (now Viasat)

In the past, there were more satellite options available. However, keeping up with advancing satellite technology is expensive, and only Viasat and HughesNet stayed in the game. Because of this, a lot of satellite internet service providers adapted or redirected their services. Some are forging ahead with other connectivity types, like DISH Network, which is building out a 5G cellular network.

So, which satellite service should you get?


Here is a quick look at the highlights of the two leading satellite internet providers. For a more in-depth comparison, check out our Viasat vs. HughesNet review and the Starlink review.

Why choose Viasat?


Internet speed

The biggest reason to get Viasat Internet is the speed. Viasat offers high speeds up to 100 Mbps in many locations, four times faster than the top HughesNet speed. That speed lets you do things like stream movies in HD or have several people use your connection at once.

Free installation

Viasat offers free installation to qualifying customers, a low equipment leasing fee of just $9.99 per month, and plenty of ways to contact customer service if you have any issues. To get free installation, customers need to have a credit check and receive a high score. If a customer's credit score is not high enough to qualify for free installation, Viasat will charge a $99.99 installation fee.

Lots of choices

There are various Viasat plans with different internet speeds, pricing, and data caps—although Viasat likes to call them "data thresholds" because your service will not get cut off if you hit the limit.

If you reach the threshold before the end of the month, Viasat will deprioritize your data on the network. That means your connection will be much slower for the rest of the month. So, pick a plan that gives you enough priority data to last through the month.

If you want the fastest satellite internet available with low fees and free installation, get Viasat.

Why Choose HughesNet?


Best value

HughesNet offers the best value on satellite internet because it gives you the most speed for the lowest price. Viasat does have one cheaper package than HughesNet. However, the download speed on that package is only 12 Mbps, which falls below the FCC broadband standard. When you compare only satellite plans that meet the broadband standard, you could save over $10 per month by choosing HughesNet.

Data bonus zone

HughesNet data caps range from 10 GB per month up to 50 GB per month. If you hit your data limit, your service will still work, but it will be much slower for the rest of the month. So instead of experiencing download speeds of 25 Mbps like you normally would, your connection will be slowed to 1 to 3 Mbps, which may prevent you from streaming video content steadily. (Netflix's lowest recommended speed is 1.5 Mbps, although they recommend at least 3 Mbps for standard definition streaming.) You can buy extra data if you need it, but you can save data using the Bonus Zone. The Bonus Zone is during the off-peak hours between 2:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. You get 50 GB per month of Bonus Zone data with each plan.

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Free installation when you lease

HughesNet offers free installation if you lease your gateway ($9.99 per month for the first year and $14.99 per month after that). Nevertheless, it charges up to $199.00 for installation if you purchase your gateway. When you add that to the cost of purchasing the gateway, it is easy to see why we recommend leasing the equipment.

For the lowest price on satellite broadband internet, go with HughesNet.

Why choose Starlink?

Unlimited data

The most enticing thing about Starlink so far is that it currently has no data limitations. All other satellite providers limit the amount of full-speed data you can use each month (throttling speeds after a data allotment is reached to prevent overuse). 

Internet speed and low latency


Starlink has fast satellite internet speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps and very low latency (or delay) of less than 40 ms. As additional satellites are launched, the company has said that speeds will increase, and latency will continue to stay low. 

Simplicity

Instead of offering many complicated plans with varying speeds and data caps, Starlink offers one simple plan with unlimited data. 

If you want fast satellite internet with unlimited data, and you have $499 to invest in equipment, get Starlink.

Pros and cons of satellite internet

Pros

Availability: Satellite internet is available almost everywhere in the US. That makes it an excellent solution for rural areas.

Speed: Satellite internet is much faster than dial-up internet, even allowing you to stream videos online. Some plans are as fast as DSL or cable internet plans.

Flexibility: Satellite internet may not be good for niche activities like high-speed gaming, but it performs well for most day-to-day usage like browsing, sending and checking emails, and even occasional video streaming (just watch that data cap).

 Cons

Data allowances: Satellite internet plans come with an allotment of data—a benchmark for how much information you can download or upload at the speeds you are paying for. After you reach that data cap, your internet speed will slow down considerably.

Latency: Sending information to space and back takes a few seconds, making it difficult to play fast-paced online games.

Cost: The average cost of satellite internet (around $100 per month) is higher than other internet types. Although there are some low priced satellite plans, these options offer minimal data that will not work for most households.

Did you know?


Satellite internet service is generally not affected by natural disasters, pandemics, or other events. The exception would be if a storm or earthquake knocked over a broadcasting tower.

As a general rule, satellite internet is well equipped to keep people connected to work, school, friends, family, news, and entertainment regardless of current events. Furthermore, if hanging out with your family, 24/7 is getting a bit much, you can also use your satellite connection to escape for an hour or two. Play a game of Scrabble, learn to build a bench on YouTube, or take an online yoga class.

Satellite vs. other internet services


Because of small data allowances and latency issues, satellite internet cannot quite keep up with other rural internet options, including DSL, cable, and in some cases even 4G LTE home internet. Nevertheless, that does not mean it is miles behind them in every category.

If you live in a rural area and do not have access to other internet service types, we recommend satellite internet. Nevertheless, if you can get service through another type of internet service—like cable, DSL, 4G LTE home internet, or fixed-wireless internet—check out those options first.

DSL and cable usually do not have data caps and maybe faster than satellite internet. Fixed-wireless internet tends to offer better prices for the speeds you get.

Internet type Max download speed Max upload speed Availability in US†

Satellite 100 Mbps 3 Mbps 99%

DSL 100 Mbps 30 Mbps 87%

Cable 2,000 Mbps 1,000 Mbps 88%

Fixed wireless 100 Mbps 3 Mbps 45%

LTE home internet 25–60 Mbps 3 Mbps N/A

*Data is estimated from currently offered plans from popular providers and subject to change. †Availability percentages as reported in FCC Fixed Broadband Deployment. 

Let's look at what a 25 Mbps plan might look like from each provider type for more accurate pricing comparison. This is a useful speed to compare since it is a good fit for a household of 2–4 people who need access to Ultra HD streaming.

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Internet type Download speed Introductory price

Satellite 25 Mbps $49.99–$150.00/mo.

DSL 25 Mbps $45.00–$50.00/mo.

Cable 25 Mbps $24.99–$44.99/mo.

Fixed wireless 25 Mbps $49.99–$79.99/mo.

LTE home internet 25 Mbps $40.00–$60.00/mo.

You may have noticed that the price range for satellite internet is much broader than that of DSL and cable. The variation comes from HughesNet, which sets all its plans at 25 Mbps but adjusts the pricing based on the data allowance, unlike DSL and cable plans, priced by speed.

With those comparatively high prices and low data allowances, satellite internet keeps up with the competition by offering something its competitors cannot: wide availability.

Satellite internet is an excellent solution for rural areas that cannot 

get DSL, LTE home internet (through a cellular data plan), fixed-wireless, fibre, or cable internet.

Are there government programs for free internet or subsidized internet in rural areas?

Yes, government programs help rural and/, or low-income Americans get low-cost internet in their homes. 

Low-income Americans all over the country benefit from The Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications, which gives qualifying individuals a $9.25 monthly discount on internet service. 

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC has waived Lifeline program rules to enable more Americans to get home internet.

Recognizing that many rural Americans are too wealthy for Lifeline but cannot afford to personally install hundreds of miles of fiber or cable infrastructure to connect them with existing networks, the FCC assists with several government programs to help bring internet service to rural areas. 

Some of these programs aimed at ending the digital divide include giving direct funding to expanding rural broadband through programs like the Connect America Fund and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. FCC programs tackling the digital divide also include data-collecting initiatives that shed light on the extent of the digital divide and where funding could do the most good.

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Best satellite internet plans for rural areas

Most recommended plan: Viasat Unlimited Platinum 100

●Price: $150/mo.

●Download speed: Up to 100 Mbps*

●Data threshold: 150 GB

View planBest for basics: Viasat Unlimited Bronze 12

●Price: $50/mo.

●Download speed: 12 Mbps*

●Data cap: 35 GB

View plan

*Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.

Provider Data Download speeds Price Get service.

Viasat 10–150 GB* 12–100 Mbps $30.00–$150.00/mo. View plans

HughesNet 10–50 GB 25 Mbps $49.99– $149.99/mo.† View plans

Satellite internet: What it is and how it works


Satellite internet uses a satellite in space, a satellite dish at your home, and the provider's Network Operation Center (NOC) to provide you with internet services, even in hard-to-reach rural areas. Thanks to its advanced technology, satellite internet offers high-speeds that greatly surpass dial-up internet.

Viasat and HughesNet's satellites are in Earth's geostationary satellite orbit. By rotating at the same rate as the Earth, they can stay in the same place and provide a satellite internet connection to customers in the US. Sitting over the equator, satellites can send and receive signals through "spot beams" that cover most of the US. As long as you are within one of these beams and other users do not use all the data capacity, you can get satellite internet service.

There are two main choices for satellite internet: Viasat and HughesNet. Either can set you up with a small satellite dish pointed toward its satellite in the southern sky and a modem/router for your home. Starlink (from SpaceX) will be a high-speed satellite provider launching service to parts of the northern US and Canada by late 2020 and expanding service in 2021.

For more on the ins and outs of satellite internet, check out "How Does Satellite Internet Work?"

How low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites will change the satellite internet game

Starlink is a new satellite provider that becomes available to some parts of the US and Canada by November 2020. Starlink (from SpaceX) is the front-runner in the next generation of satellite internet service. Starlink will offer faster internet speeds and less lag than what is currently possible with satellite internet by launching satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). Satellites that are in LEO offer much faster internet speeds because data does not have to travel as far as with traditional satellite systems. 

Starlink is not the only company working to leverage an LEO satellite system to deliver fast internet. OneWeb is launching satellites to meet similar goals, although funding problems have slowed the company down. According to current plans, OneWeb will cater to the aviation, maritime, and government sectors rather than everyday folks living in sparsely populated areas. Project Kuiper (backed by Amazon) is also building a satellite network that will deliver fast internet service. However, details are still sketchy on whether residential customers will get internet with Project Kuiper.

Satellite internet FAQ


What equipment will I need for satellite internet to work?


To use satellite internet, you will need an internet-ready device (like a computer, tablet, or gaming console), a modem/router, and a satellite dish. You probably already have internet-ready devices at home, and your satellite internet service provider can set you up with a modem/router and satellite dish.

Which modems and routers work with satellite internet?


Both HughesNet and Viasat have their own modems because satellite internet modems do not have industry standards. While they also have modem/router combos, you can buy your own router, such as the NETGEAR Nighthawk. Almost any modern router will be compatible.

How fast is the satellite internet?


Download speeds for Viasat satellite internet range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, depending on the plan you choose. HughesNet plans all offer the same download speed of 25 Mbps. Nevertheless, keep in mind those are advertised speeds. The speeds you actually experience may be slower. Starlink speeds (as reported during the public beta test) range from 50 to 150 Mbps, faster than average.

Is satellite internet fast?


No, satellite internet is not the fastest type of internet. However, it can be faster than dial-up and some DSL providers. Nevertheless, it is fast enough for most online activities— satellite internet service can support email, streaming, social media, and video conferencing. 

Satellite internet is almost always slower than cable or fibre internet providers, and—perhaps most importantly—satellite service usually caps the amount of full-speed data you can get each month, which leads to throttling and sluggish speeds. 

When will Starlink satellite internet be available? 


Currently undergoing a public beta test, Starlink is now available to customers who live in North America in a narrow strip of land between the latitudes of 45 and 53 degrees north. So, the Wyoming/Montana border is the southern limit of the current coverage area, and Edmonton, Alberta is the furthest north. As their satellite system is built out, the Starlink coverage map will expand.

You can sign up on Starlink's website and get a notification when Starlink internet is available in your area.

Who has the fastest satellite internet?


In many areas, Viasat offers download speeds up to 100 Mbps. Beta testers of Starlink report slightly higher speeds for the new LEO service, with download speeds reaching 150 Mbps. However, speeds vary widely since the Starlink constellation is not fully built out yet. Starlink's advertised speeds are 50 to 150 Mbps.

Is satellite internet as fast as cable internet?


No, satellite internet is not as fast as cable internet. Satellite speeds top out at 150 Mbps, while cable speeds can reach up to 1,000 Mbps.

Some satellite internet plans technically offer download speeds as fast as cable internet in some areas. However, it likely would not seem faster because of satellite internet's higher latency. Do you not know what latency is? We explain here.

Is satellite internet good enough for streaming (e.g., Netflix)?


Yes, you can stream with satellite internet. However, there are many factors to consider before you do—especially data caps. With satellite internet, you will be picking a data plan and impacting the ability to stream video.

Since streaming can be tricky on satellite, we wrote two guides to help you get the most out of your internet connection: Your Guide to Streaming with Satellite Internet and How to Stop Buffering When Streaming with Satellite Internet.

Should I get satellite internet or fixed-wireless internet?


If you choose between satellite internet or fixed-wireless internet, you may get more data for your dollar by opting for fixed wireless. Many fixed-wireless plans offer higher data caps or even unlimited data and are usually cheaper than satellite internet service. Satellite internet typically has more limited data plans (10 GB to 150 GB per month). For more information on fixed-wireless internet, check out the best fixed-wireless providers for rural areas.

How do I know if I qualify for subsidized broadband internet service through the FCC Lifeline program?

The Lifeline program offers a $9.25 per month discount on internet service with Viasat, HughesNet, or dozens of other internet providers. If you live on Tribal Lands, you may qualify for additional services.

How can I get internet access on tribal lands?


You can get internet on tribal lands with satellite internet, DSL and dial-up internet (which run through phone lines and are not available everywhere), and wireless (which is broadcasted using cell phone towers and will work if you have good mobile service in your home). Cable internet from companies like Xfinity or fiber internet from companies like AT&T, Google Fiber, or Frontier Fios is often not available on Tribal Lands.

Many tribal lands are underserved in regards to high-speed internet services. NPR reported that only 50% of individuals on tribal lands had access to high-speed internet. Newer satellites from companies like Starlink can help provide high-speed internet access to many tribal lands. The Hoh tribe in Washington State got to try out Starlink internet service before the public.

Satellite communication relies on having a clear view of the sky, so people living in heavily wooded areas or narrow canyons (where there is no clear view of the sky overhead) may not be able to get satellite internet. 

You can find out more about bringing internet service to your area (or your home) by checking into the FCC's internet assistance programs for tribal lands. Recognizing that rural areas are more likely not to have internet access, the FCC offers Enhanced Lifeline Benefits for Tribal Lands.

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How can I get quick access to the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic?

You can get quick internet access by first finding out which providers are in your area. If your options are limited or too expensive, look into hotspotting off your mobile phone or getting 4G LTE home internet service from Verizon, T-Mobile, MobilSat, Ladybug Wireless, UbiFi, Wahoo Internet, and others.

How can I get the internet if I do not qualify for government-subsidized internet, but I cannot afford broadband due to being furloughed or other events?

You might actually qualify for the Lifeline government program, even if your income is usually too high. During the coronavirus pandemic, some Lifeline program rules were waived to help people quickly get internet services and promote social distancing.

How does satellite TV work?


Satellite TV works in a relay system similar to satellite internet. However, it uses a set-top box and a TV instead of a modem and internet-ready device. Live satellite TV does not use internet data, so it is a good choice for customers who have internet plans with data limits. For tips on picking a satellite TV provider, check out our guide to the best satellite TV providers.

How can I get high-speed internet in rural areas?


Satellite internet is available in almost every rural area in the US. Satellite internet plans come with download speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, and 25 Mbps is the current FCC standard for high-speed internet.

In many rural areas, satellite internet is not the only option anymore. Many areas have additional options that offer more data and lower prices. Check out our guide to the Best Internet for Rural Areas to find out about 4G LTE home internet, fixed-wireless, and more options that could save you money.

What is satellite broadband?


Satellite broadband is another term for high-speed satellite internet. Satellite internet can provide service to remote areas more easily than Fiber or Cable broadband connections. The FCC standard for broadband requires a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps.

Can I use my own modem with satellite internet?


You need a satellite modem to get satellite internet, and typical modems do not support satellite service. Viasat and HughesNet require customers to use their satellite modems, including a router (although you can use your own router if you wish).

Can I get satellite internet for RV?


It would be nice to equip an RV with satellite internet, but this is not currently practical for most people. VSAT (tiny aperture terminal) equipment is the only type of satellite internet equipment that is transportable. Still, this type of mobile satellite internet equipment is expensive ($5,000 and up). It delivers a plodding internet speed (less than 1 Mbps).

So, for most people, we recommend using cellular internet in your RV by strengthening your mobile phone signal with a booster, using a mobile hotspot, or signing up for a portable 4G LTE home internet plan that is not tied to your location (Verizon's LTE Home Internet does not work on the road). 

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Is satellite internet good for gaming?

The distance satellite internet data has to travel—22,000 miles to outer space and back twice—lag is unavoidable. Any game that requires rapid response, like Call of Duty and other first-person shooters, will be unplayable with satellite internet's delay.

When Starlink's LEO satellite constellation is more fully built out, Starlink's internet will be fast enough for competitive gaming. Currently, Starlink is in public beta, and customers may have service interruptions, which would be a problem with online gaming.

Is satellite internet a good option?

Satellite internet is a great option when DSL, cable, and fiber internet are not available. You have access to high satellite internet speeds up to 100 Mbps in some areas, but it can be a bit pricey. Other parts of the country may have slower speeds of around 12 Mbps available in their area. Data caps and latency associated with satellite internet make it less than perfect as well. However, it can get the job done and is certainly better than no internet at all.

Is satellite internet better than DSL internet?

Depending on the provider, DSL and satellite internet speeds are on par with each other. Satellite is more widely available, but DSL internet usually has higher data caps, which means you can do more web surfing before your speeds are throttled. Refer to Satellite Internet vs. DSL to determine which internet type is best for you.

Can you stream with satellite internet?

Yes, it is easy to stream with satellite internet. You may notice some lag if you are skipping around the video, but it will download at a normal pace once a show starts streaming. Both HughesNet and Viasat have options to help you save data when you stream, so you do not use up your data allowance too quickly.

Satellite internet: Fact vs. fiction satellite internet

Fiction: Satellite internet is slow.

While satellite internet cannot deliver some fibre-optic internet providers' gigabit speeds, its top speeds still reach up to 100 Mbps, which is competitive with many cable and DSL providers. Eight of the twelve residential satellite internet packages available qualify as broadband. Most performance issues with satellite internet are not caused by low speed—they are caused by high latency and low data caps.

Fact: Satellite internet has high latency.

Latency, sometimes called lag, ping, or ping rate is the time it takes a digital signal to travel from your computer to your provider's server and back.

With satellite internet, the signal travels farther than it would with a cable, DSL, or fiber connection because it literally goes to space and back. Traveling that extra distance takes extra time. That is why satellite internet has higher latency than other types of internet technology.

You will notice the latency the most during real-time online activities like video chatting. Latency adds to the feeling of experiencing slower speeds when you are on a satellite connection.

Fiction: Satellite internet is too expensive. SPY24

Satellite internet prices are comparable with other types of internet, although slightly more expensive. Most internet packages offered in America range at an introductory price from about $45 to $150 per month. It is the same with satellite internet.

However, the amount of data you get for your dollar will be lower with a satellite plan, which makes it feel more expensive. Satellite plans typically deliver 150 GB or less data per month. In comparison, cable and DSL internet plans offer 1 TB (1,000 GB) of data per month.

FACT (sometimes): Bad weather interferes with satellite internet signals.

Bad weather occasionally interferes with the signal, but that issue is often blown out of proportion. Despite the potential for weather interference, satellite internet customers gave their providers higher customer satisfaction scores for reliability in 2018 than any other internet customers gave their providers.

Fiction: You cannot play video games on satellite internet.

Latency can make online gaming problematic, but it can still be done. The trick is to choose the right games and optimize your setup. Check out "Your Guide to Gaming on Satellite Internet" for more details.