Rural Internet describes the characteristics of Internet service in rural areas (also referred to as "the country" or "countryside"), which are settled places outside towns and cities. Inhabitants live in villages, hamlets, on farms and in other isolated houses. Mountains and other terrain can impede rural Internet access.
Internet service in many rural areas is provided over voiceband by 56k modem. Poor quality telephone lines, many of which were installed or last upgraded between the 1930s and the 1960s, often limit the speed of the network to bit rates of 26kbps or less. Since many of these lines serve relatively few customers, phone company maintenance and speed of repair of these lines has actually degraded and their upgrade for modern quality requirements is unlikely. This results in a digital divide.
High-speed, wireless Internet service is becoming increasingly common in rural areas. Here, service providers deliver Internet service over radio-frequency via special radio-equipped antennas. These providers have been bridging the digital divide for years, using private, non-governmental infrastructure, making it not necessary for government to become involved in distributing the internet to rural areas.
Methods for broadband Internet access in rural areas include:
The United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service has provided numerous studies and data on the Internet in rural America. One such article from the Agricultural Outlook magazine, Communications & the Internet in Rural America, summarizes internet uses in rural areas of the United States in 2002. It indicates, "Internet use by rural and urban households has also increased significantly during the 1990s, so significantly that it has one of the fastest rates of adoption for any household service."
Another area for inclusion of the Internet is American farming. One study reviewed data from 2003 and found that "56 percent of farm operators used the Internet while 31 percent of rural workers used it at their place of work." In later years challenges to economical rural telecommunications remain. People in inner city areas are closer together, so the access network to connect them is shorter and cheaper to build and maintain, while rural areas require more equipment per customer. However, even with this challenge the demand for services continues to grow.
A membership association, NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, comprising nearly 850 independent rural American telecommunications companies in forty-four states, was formed with the goal of improving communications services in rural America.
In Canada, when pressed by Member of Parliament David de Burgh Graham, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities did not see access to the internet a right. Telecommunications co-operatives like Antoine-Labelle provide an alternative to big Internet Service Providers.
In Spain, the Guifi.net project has been for some people the only alternative to get access to the Internet. Usually, neighbors are the responsible to collect the necessary money to buy the network equipment that will do a Wireless link with another zone that already has internet access. There have also been cases in which the own city council has invested in the infrastructure.
In the UK, the government aimed to provide superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbit/s or more) to 95% of the country by 2017. In 2014, a study by the Oxford Internet Institute found that in areas less than 30 km (20 mi) from large cities, internet speed dropped below 2Mbit/s, the speed designated as "adequate" by the government.
Due to poor telecommunication access in most rural areas, low-energy solutions such as those offered by Internet of Things networks are seen as a cost-effective solution well-adapted to agricultural environments. Tasks such as controlling livestock conditions and numbers, the state of crops, and pests are progressively being taken over by m2m communications. Companies such as Sigfox, Cisco Systems and Fujitsu are delving into the agricultural market, offering innovative solutions to common problems in countries such as the U.S., Japan, Ireland and Uruguay.