7 Unique Connectivity Challenges for Rural and Remote Businesses

Explore the unique connectivity challenges faced by rural and remote businesses, including solutions for overcoming limited internet and cell coverage options.

rural connectivity
Bingle Flickerini

Apr 17, 2024


In modern business, few things are more important than a strong, robust internet connection. Recent research says 28% of business today is digital only, and that percentage doesn’t include digitally enhanced services. However, it isn’t as easy as finding an ISP and opening for business, especially for remote and rural businesses.

Issues with coverage, and a lack of incentive to invest in rural infrastructure from telcos and ISPs, can be seriously limiting. From diminished choices and connectivity challenges to a higher cost of accessing services, rural and remote businesses face unique issues. In this blog article, the Lightyear team investigates these challenges, as well as offer solutions and strategies to help you put in place the internet connectivity your business needs to thrive.

Limited Internet Service Providers

When it comes to democratizing access to technology and digital services, connectivity is a major factor. According to recent data from the FCC, 22.3% of rural Americans, and 27.7% of Americans living on tribal land, cannot access fixed, terrestrial broadband. Compare that to 1.5% of urban Americans and the disparity is glaring.

Rural ISPs are few in number and typically offer slower speeds and truncated service options due to dated infrastructure. Unfortunately, there’s limited desire to upgrade the dated, often copper, infrastructure, as the cost of an upgrade against potential service uptake doesn’t make good business sense. Also, challenges like long distances or difficult terrain are common, making an upgrade even more costly. 

This makes finding adequate coverage in rural areas difficult, especially if network diversity and / or redundancy are at all important to you. However, although you can’t magically increase rural ISP competition, you can ensure that you utilize data to uncover every connectivity option available when conducting a rural connectivity search, particularly the LEC and local cable company at a minimum. Further, alternative connectivity technologies, like satellite or multi-carrier LTE (where it works rurally), can help. Enterprises should consider using a service like Lightyear to automate connectivity searches so all options are always considered.

High Costs of Connectivity

Interestingly, rural businesses are typically comparable in revenue to urban ones. However, twice as many rural entrepreneurs as non-rural (19.2% vs. 9%) cite high-speed internet access as a major challenge.

Rural businesses face limited infrastructure access, which exponentially raises installation and maintenance costs due to access difficulty and distance. With a lower population density, there’s a more limited customer base, making economies of scale nearly non-existent. All while terrain and distance from network hubs raise the operating expenses of telcos, creating higher service costs for dedicated connectivity. If you’re buying a dedicated connection in a rural market, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have to pay a much higher price than you would in a metro market to cover the costs noted above. In fact, the needs of rural businesses are one of the major drivers behind alternate technologies for connectivity, such as non-terrestrial satellite networks, or LTE where it works well.

Coverage from these services is expected to grow steadily through 2030. In the meantime, rural business owners can consider seeking grants and subsidies, and leveraging government programs focusing on rural infrastructure to help expand their coverage opportunities.

Inconsistent Internet Speeds and Reliability

While speed and connectivity access matter in this debate, so does the quality of service. Remote areas are further from exchanges, often hard to reach, and, as we’ve seen, get less investment due to low ROI for infrastructure development. As a result of this, infrastructure in rural markets is often dated copper rather than fiber, which provides a much worse quality of service than the fiber service that may be available in a metro market. There’s little the eager rural businessman can do about that. However, solutions like satellite connections or fixed wireless can help bypass this issue. You can also try utilizing an SD-WAN solution to get the most out of your network.

Challenges with Mobile Network Coverage

Almost 10% of rural areas, or 20 million people, lack mobile coverage in the United States. Furthermore, research reveals 40% of rural businesses lose work time due to connectivity outages, costing businesses an estimated $1.4 billion annually. This leaves rural areas struggling to compete – Deloitte has suggested that businesses with reliable mobile coverage see 2.3 times the revenue growth of those without. This makes LTE as a backup solution tougher to utilize depending on where you are.

Again, this means looking to alternative connection options, like signal boosters (for better coverage) and satellite phones to improve access and outcomes. You can also try a multi-carrier option to get the most out of multiple carrier networks rather than just one.

Limited Access to Tech Support and Maintenance

A lack of timely maintenance and support can severely affect the profitability of a rural or remote business. Tech-support companies tend to focus on high-impact areas, with denser populations.

Luckily, the evolving remote work landscape helps offset some of this. Larger-scale businesses can invest in training their own tech-support staff, providing on-site support, or contracting with a third-party. Remote businesses can also consider partnering with other local businesses or joining business forums to share mutual tech-support solutions.

Difficulty in Leveraging Cloud Services

These same connectivity issues are particularly impactful for businesses using cloud solutions. If you’re wondering, that’s 94% of modern businesses. Cloud services are reliant on real-time data transfer to the colocation or server center – synchronization and frequent interruptions will compromise data integrity and security. With poor connectivity, businesses face limited access to cutting-edge solutions like the cloud, which can diminish scalability, competitiveness, and overall operational efficiency.

Hybrid cloud solutions, combining an on-premises data center with the public cloud, can help offset these complications by limiting the amount of traffic that needs to go back and forth between the public internet.

Barriers to Remote Work and Digital Expansion

By 2025, almost a quarter of the workforce is anticipated to work remotely. That statistic rises to almost half if we include hybrid workers. Combining a digital work environment with poor connectivity and inadequate internet access in rural or underserved areas restricts employees' ability to connect to company networks, access cloud-based applications, and participate in virtual meetings. That means lost productivity and reduced opportunity for expansion and business success.

Rural businesses can use some creative approaches to help reduce these barriers, including partial remote work, local coworking spaces, and digital collaboration tools. 

Engaging with Community and Government Initiatives

If it’s true the squeaky wheel gets the grease, rural and remote businesses need to make their voices heard or inadequate coverage will persist. Businesses, even telcos, are incentivized to offer services where there is demand.

Your small rural business may not have a big voice, however, imagine 50, or 100, of you? Now you can be heard. Collective bargaining allows small businesses to leverage their combined power to reduce procurement expenses and encourage infrastructure development. Additionally, engage with community efforts and government initiatives to help boost rural connectivity, and consider participating in pilot projects to  increase your connectivity access. The US federal government allocates lots of money every year for rural broadband development, are you making sure that your local government is doing everything it can to get access?

Investing in Alternative Communication Technologies

There are some alternative communications technologies remote businesses can consider for enhanced connectivity.

  • Mesh Networks: These are self-healing, scalable, and have low infrastructure requirements. However, node placement and environmental factors affect reliability, alongside range and security issues.

  • Satellite Communications: Satellite connectivity has much to offer in this use case. It offers global coverage, resilience to terrestrial failures, and high bandwidth. However, latency is higher, coverage is still evolving, and satellite coverage comes at a high price.

  • Fixed Wireless: This is easily deployable and cost-effective, and some rural areas have great support. However, the range is limited, and infrastructure costs are higher.

  • Cellular Signal Boosters: This can help to enhance existing coverage and are cost-effective but are still limited to existing signal areas.

These technologies (and others) can make for excellent emergency or supplemental communications channels, and satellite or fixed wireless may even serve as a reliable primary connectivity alternative.

Educating and Training Staff on Connectivity Limitations

Last, but certainly not least, remember that staff training and education can make a significant impact. If staff are aware of the limitations of your business’s connectivity, they are empowered to use smart workarounds, failover solutions, and ensure backups and data integrity are a priority.

If you’re struggling with the connectivity challenges that arise with running a modern business in rural and remote areas, you don’t have to struggle alone. The Lightyear platform is built to help make procurement and sourcing easier for businesses just like yours. If you're ready to find the right connectivity solution for your unique needs, reach out to our helpful team today.

Want to learn more about how Lightyear can help you?

Let us show you the product and discuss specifics on how it might be helpful.

Not ready to buy?

Stay up to date on our product, straight to your inbox every month.

Featured Articles