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The essential guide to rural internet providers.

By Husain Sumra|Monday August 17, 2020

Years ago, rural businesses only had one choice for internet access: dial-up. That’s changed. There are now multiple broadband internet access options to small businesses in rural areas. To guide you through the options, here are some of the most popular ones that provide the speed you need to browse the web, make calls and serve your customers.

Guide to Rural Internet: The Five Key Options

If you and your customers live in a rural area, your internet service options will be different compared to what we see in large cities. While download speeds in rural areas may not be the fastest, they are far better than they were just a few years ago. As you consider different options, measure these options against the FCC guidance on broadband, which requires 25 Mbps for download speeds and a three megabit upload speed to access new digital services like streaming video. Anything less than that speed may lead to a poor experience using services like video.

1. Satellite Internet

While each satellite internet provider has a different offering, we used data from broadbandnow.com to outline typical options.  

  • Typical download speeds: up to 25 megabits; however, some providers are working on 100 Mbps connections
  • Typical upload speeds: varies with some providers offering up to 3 megabits
  • Pricing: depends on the package you select. For example, Viasat’s monthly price varies between $30 and $150 per month.
  • Bandwidth: SatelliteInternet.com notes that some bandwidths have data caps, so you may not be able to get unlimited data.
  • Availability: According to Broadband Now, satellite internet access is available across 100% of the United States.

A satellite internet connection has the advantage of not requiring any cables or telephone lines. However, this option involves a line of sight between the satellite and your business. Also, satellite internet service tends to have relatively high latency, according to the FCC. That means small businesses using satellite internet may see longer delays between when they submit a request and when the data arrives. You will also need to install a satellite dish on your building to access this service.

If customers come to your small business in person, you may also want to look into satellite TV. For example, some dental offices offer TV to patients in the waiting room.

2. Wireless Internet Service (also known as fixed wireless internet)

Using cell towers, wireless internet service is offered by many companies. According to Broadband Now, more than 1500 companies are offering fixed wireless internet service. Note that some companies operate in multiple states while others focus on a single state. Some of the national cellular carriers like AT&T and Sprint also offer wireless internet service. 

  • Typical download speeds: Speeds vary widely. There are many providers that offer 25 Mbps speed. There are more than a dozen fixed wireless internet service providers offering download speeds over 100 Mbps, according to Broadband Now. Some even offer up to 1000 Mbps (also known as gigabit internet).
  • Typical upload speeds: Upload speeds for two of the largest fixed wireless internet service providers are as follows: Rise Broadband offers 25 Mbps, while Etheric Networks has an average upload speed of approximately 7 Mbps.
  • Pricing: The price your small business pays depends on the area since some areas have more providers. For example, Starry Internet, operating in six states, offers 200 Mbps for $50.00/mo with no data cap (i.e., unlimited data). In contrast, TWN Communications offers services starting at $79 per month.
  • Availability: Approximately 51% of the U.S. is covered by fixed wireless internet service, according to Broadband Now. This percentage may change over time as more capacity is installed. For example, 5G wireless technology may make wireless internet service even faster in the future. The New York Times reports that 5G may be faster than Wi-Fi in some cases!

While fixed wireless service might sound like Wi-Fi, they are not the same thing. A Wi-Fi router typically has a range of up to 300 feet, which makes it an excellent option to provide internet access within your small business. By contrast, fixed wireless internet service connects users by installing a wireless receiver that connects to an access point within approximately 10 miles. For the best speeds, your business will need a line of sight between your building and the access point.

Not sure if wireless internet service is offered in your ZIP code? There is an easy way to get the answer — search for your zip code on the Broadband Now Fixed Wireless page.

3. Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL)

While DSL uses your phone line, it is far faster than traditional dial-up connections.

  • Typical download speeds: Range from 5-25 Mbps (i.e., it is possible to meet the 25 Mbps download standard with DSL) according to Broadband Now.
  • Typical upload speeds: Range from 1-10 Mbps, according to Broadband Now.
  • Pricing: The average DSL price is $43 per month across the U.S. As a result, it is the least expensive type of broadband internet connection, according to Reviews.org.
  • Availability: DSL internet service is available in 90% of the U.S., according to Broadband Now.

DSL internet service uses telephone lines to deliver connectivity. As a result, you do not face line of sight issues. Since DSL service is based on landline phone infrastructure, it is widely available. DSL internet connections are offered by large companies such as AT&T and Verizon and smaller companies such as Earthlink.

Tip: Relying on a traditional landline phone system reduces your flexibility. For example, what if you are away from your office, serving customers who live in a rural area? You might miss important calls from other customers. That’s one reason you should consider a digital small business phone system that can forward calls and use a virtual receptionist service.

4. Fiber-Optic

This type of internet connection is one of the fastest options on the market. 

  • Typical download speeds: 250 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps
  • Typical upload speeds: 250 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps
  • Pricing: The average price is $56 
  • Availability: Relatively limited in rural areas; it is mostly available in cities

If you haven’t heard of fiber-optic internet service in your rural area, don’t be surprised. This relatively new type of service is most common in cities. However, there are increasing investments underway to bring fiber-optic service to more rural areas. For example, there are several small towns, like Mitchell, South Dakota and Flora, Mississippi, that have recently introduced fiber-optic service, according to Broadband Now.

If you are in a rural area close to a suburb or major urban area, you have a greater chance of finding a fiber-optic internet service provider. 

5. Cable Internet

  • Typical download speeds: up to 100 Mbps or 500 Mbps
  • Typical upload speeds: 1.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps
  • Pricing: The average price is $58 per month
  • Availability: There are more than 400 cable internet providers in the United States

In contrast to fiber-optic, cable internet service is more broadly available because there are several hundred providers. The downside? Cable internet requires physical cables to be installed in the ground. In rural areas, there are fewer potential subscribers than in urban areas, which means it is more difficult for cable internet providers to earn a return on investment in less populated areas. As a result, this type of internet service in rural areas is relatively uncommon. Broadband Now summarizes the situation as follows: “Unfortunately, cable internet from any brand is a rarity in most rural areas.”

Rural Internet Options: Consider multiple internet connections.

Your internet connection is vital to staying in touch with suppliers and customers. While households might be able to tolerate a temporary internet connection problem, businesses are different. Whether there is a storm or some other disruption, your customers expect to be able to contact you. Therefore, consider subscribing to two internet services. Your primary internet service might be a fixed wireless service with a 100 Mbps service. However, if that internet connection fails during a winter storm, you might find it valuable to have a DSL service in place as a backup.

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Loyal customers are critical to business success because they tend to be a source of repeat business. According to The Loyalty Report 2018, “Loyalty programs that establish positive emotional connections with Members see 27% more of their Membership increasing their spend with the Brand.” This research tells us that building customer loyalty can lead to more spending.

Loyalty programs vs. improving customer experience: Designing your approach

There are different approaches to building customer loyalty. Some companies use loyalty program cards, bonus offers and other incentives. You might offer access to special deals like CVS or take 5% off the purchase price like Target. You might even give some or part of your product away for free, like airlines that provide free flights through their loyalty programs. What if your small business isn’t interested or able to offer these kinds of loyalty programs?

There is another way to encourage loyal customers to keep giving you repeat business. Gather customer feedback through a phone survey and then use that data to improve the customer experience. When customers see that the business owner has acted on their feedback, they may feel inspired to return to that business. That means more revenue for the bottom line. You just need a fast and straightforward way to conduct a customer satisfaction survey. That’s where a focused business phone survey comes in.

Why increasing customer loyalty with a phone survey is a good choice.

Organizing a customer satisfaction survey by phone offers notable advantages compared to other methods. While a net promoter survey can give you interesting data, there is no conversational element involved. Further, using the net promoter survey approach effectively requires a certain degree of specialized training in the net promoter methodology.

You might also consider online customer surveys. Surveying your email list or website is worth attempting. Depending on the size of your email list or website traffic, you might be able to get a large number of survey responses. The challenge with online customer surveys is that you will have to spend a lot of time reviewing the data to find insights. There is no way to ask a customer to clarify their survey responses or provide an example.

Conducting a customer satisfaction survey by phone gives you the best of both worlds. You can ask questions and get survey responses. However, you also have the opportunity to provide the human touch. For instance, you may hear a customer complain about a lost or delayed order. When you hear about a problem during a phone survey, you can gather all the necessary details to make the situation right with the customer.

How to increase customer loyalty with a phone survey step by step.

The following steps give you a starting point to create a simple customer satisfaction survey. Over the course of a month, you could gather a significant amount of insights to improve your customer service by calling five to 10 customers per day.

  1. Define your customer satisfaction survey goals.

Before calling a single customer, reflect on your business goals. Are you seeking to improve your profit margins? In that case, you may want to focus your survey on the customers that spend the most on your business. Finding ways to make high-spending customers content may give you an excellent return. Alternatively, you may decide to focus your survey project on whether your local SEO has attracted customers. 

  1. Write your customer satisfaction survey questions.

Now that you have clarity on your goals, it is time to write your questions. According to Survey Monkey, a survey software company, it is best to focus your survey on closed-ended questions. An example of a closed-ended question would be: “How many times have you bought from our business in the past 12 months?” However, this kind of question may not give you the ideas you need to improve the customer experience.

At the end of the survey, consider asking one or two open-ended questions to understand better what your customers like. Encourage customers to think creatively with a question like this: “If you could change anything in our business, what would you improve?”

Tip: Reduce your need for note-taking by using call recording, but make sure that you ask for permission first.

  1. Test the survey with a small group of customers.

With your list of customer satisfaction questions, make a few test phone calls to customers. The purpose of the test is to discover if any of the questions are unclear. If you receive confusing answers, revise the question to make them clearer.

  1. Train employees on how to gather survey responses.

Consider running a few training phone calls for your employees. Ask them to call you or other employees in a role-playing scenario. Making a few practice calls will help your employees become more familiar with the questions. Besides, practice phone surveys will help employees learn how to record survey responses accurately. Once the training is complete, give your staff a list of customers to call and let them get started.

  1. Review the survey responses for insights and follow up with customers.

After all of the survey responses are in, schedule time to review the results. In particular, look for patterns in the results. If a large number of people gave low scores to your website, you may need to make improvements. Also, review the survey responses received in the open-ended questions. You might be pleasantly surprised at what customers tell you.

  1. Follow up with customers after the survey when needed.

A phone survey lets you gather rich insights because you can quickly ask follow-up questions. However, merely gathering survey responses may not impress your customers very much. Instead, offer to refer problems to the business owner for improvement or offer to enter the respondent in a drawing for a gift card. That is a much more compelling improvement! By addressing problems and issues when they arise, you stand a much better chance of winning additional loyal customers.