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Elon Musk’s Starlink is the satellite internet service provider that’s been grabbing the majority of the headlines, whether unveiling internet services for private jets or partnering with T-Mobile to help provide greater cellular connectivity across the US. A more recent twist was a late 2022 announcement introducing a Starlink data cap. But Musk’s ISP is just a small part of the picture.
We know that many in rural America lack adequate internet access. There’s disagreement on the exact numbers, but a growing chorus of voices agrees the US has work to do to increase and expand its internet infrastructure. The good news? The White House aims to make our internet connections less expensive by partnering with ISPs with the government’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
In the meantime, satellite internet is the one broadband connection type currently available to people in the rural areas of all 50 states. No, it doesn’t match the internet speed capabilities of fiber or cable connections. Still, satellite broadband can play a key role when internet access is vital (and the pandemic shed light on just how critical it is). But which of the satellite internet providers is best?
Frankly, there aren’t many choices out there. But here’s what you’ll find when you explore satellite internet access, starting with a quick look at how the best satellite internet providers compare.
Satellite internet providers comparison
|Max speeds||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||25-220Mbps download, 5-20Mbps upload||12-150Mbps download, 3Mbps upload|
|Lowest monthly cost||$50-$150||$90-$120; $250-$1,500 (Priority)||$50-$300|
|Regular monthly rate||$65-$175||$90-$120; $250-$1,500 (Priority)||$70-$400|
|Contract||2 years||None||2 years|
|Monthly equipment costs||$15 or $350 one-time purchase||$599 one-time purchase (or $2,500 for Priority)||$15 or $300 one-time purchase|
Let’s dig a little deeper to see what each satellite internet provider brings to the table.
Best satellite internet providers
HughesNet satellite internet plans and prices
|HughesNet Fusion||HughesNet Fusion||HughesNet Fusion||HughesNet Fusion|
|Max speeds||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload|
|Starting monthly cost||$65||$50||$75||$150|
|Regular monthly rate (after six months)||$65||$75||$100||$175|
|Contract||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years|
Viasat satellite internet plans and prices (not available in all markets)
|Choice 25||Choice 50||Choice 75||Choice 100||Choice 125||Choice 150|
|Max speeds||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||50Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||75Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||100Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||125Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||150Mbps download, 3Mbps upload|
|Starting monthly cost||$70||$90||$150||$200||$300||$300|
|Regular monthly rate (after 3 months)||$100||$150||$200||$300||$400||$400|
|Contract||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years||2 years|
Starlink satellite internet plans and prices
|Plan||Max speeds||Starting monthly cost||Regular monthly rate||Contract||Data allowance|
|Starlink Standard||100Mbps download, 15Mbps upload||$90-$120||$90-$120||None||Unlimited standard data|
|Starlink Priority||250Mbps download, 30Mbps upload||$250-$1500||$250-$1500||None||1-6TB|
What’s next for satellite internet providers?
Stay tuned to CNET for the latest developments with Starlink as it presses further into its plans and aims to expand its coverage.
According to Ookla speed test data from Q3 of 2022, Starlink was a clear winner as the fastest satellite provider on average. Its median download speed in the US was 53Mbps, while Viasat was a distant second place with 28Mbps download speeds. HughesNet brought up the rear at 21Mbps download speed. It’s safe to say that Starlink is beginning to change expectations of how satellite internet can perform. Indeed, HughesNet recently revealed plans to get its speeds up to 50 and 100Mbps before the end of the year.
It should also be mentioned that further disruption may come from another multibillionaire, Jeff Bezos, as Amazon’s Project Kuiper also aims to enter the field. While nowhere near the stage that Starlink has achieved thus far, Project Kuiper did turn some heads when its prototype delivered speeds up to 400Mbps in some iterations.
Innovations from low Earth orbit satellites will be just one piece of the puzzle of better delivering the internet to the millions of households still unable to find a reliable broadband source. We’ll keep this post updated as your options (hopefully) improve.