Rural south and central Indianans can get this company’s affordable, high-speed, reliable fiber internet with no contract and no data cap. And if you don’t have access to Smithville yet, you might soon. It’s expanding fast!
Starlink has the fastest speed and lowest latency of any satellite internet service, but its availability and customer service lag behind competitors. While Starlink’s performance is impressive for satellite internet, it can’t compete with a traditional cable or fiber connection.
Smithville Communications offers just one fiber internet plan, serving up 1 Gbps and unlimited data for less than about $0.70 per Mbps. Compared to the US benchmark plan for similar service ($134.62) (1), Smithville is a pretty sweet deal. And you won’t have to sign a contract to get it.
This low price is particularly impressive for fiber in rural areas since building infrastructure outside of urban centers can be incredibly costly. Smithville could easily charge higher rates for bringing fiber to rural Indiana, but it doesn’t. And we applaud that.
Where it’s already available, Starlink is a solid alternative to other satellite internet providers. Starlink offers one home internet service plan at a flat price just over $100 per month. Starlink aims to provide download speeds of 50–250 Mbps, with speeds varying based on location, network congestion, and other technical factors. That’s up to $2.27 Mbps of speed per dollar.
While it’s more expensive than many cable or fiber plans, this is a great value compared to other satellite internet providers. HughesNet doesn’t offer speeds anywhere near as high, although some of its plans are cheaper than Starlink’s. Viasat’s highest service tier offers up to 100 Mbps download speeds, but still can’t compete on speed or price.
Like HughesNet and Viasat, Starlink has limits on how much high-speed data you can use during peak hours (7:00 am to 11:00 pm). You can get around it by logging on overnight or buying additional gigabytes of high speed data through the app.
Starlink sets itself apart, though, by being the only satellite internet company to offer an internet option for RV travelers. It costs just $25 more than the regular residential plan but may have slower speeds in busy areas.
Fiber is the fastest and most reliable type of internet available, and download speeds max out around 5 Gbps. Smithville fiber reaches only 1 Gbps, but for most people frustrated by slow or unreliable rural internet, it’ll feel like your browser just got a turbo boost. You’ll also see 1 Gbps upload speeds, which is less common among non-fiber internet types like DSL and cable. Everyone—from heavy streamers and online gamers to remote workers and avid YouTube creators—will have plenty of juice (and unlimited data) when they need it.
Unfortunately, there’s one caveat: In some areas, Smithville is still using legacy DSL infrastructure, so you might not be able to sign up for fiber just yet. Smithville is phasing out this infrastructure as it lays more fiber lines, and it was named one of the Top 100 Fiber-to-the-Home organizations by Broadband Communities magazine for its efforts in helping bring fiber internet to rural communities (2). Luckily, Smithville won’t lock you into a contract, so if you’re not happy with your DSL, you can cancel any time and come back later when you have access to fiber.
Starlink certainly can’t compete with a fiber connection, but it is more than capable of outperforming other satellite providers. Starlink’s stated performance goals are 50–250 Mbps download speed, 10–20 Mbps of upload speed, and 20–40 ms latency. These are much more ambitious goals than what HughesNet or Viasat could achieve with their geostationary satellites, but Starlink’s low-earth orbit satellite technology lets it perform beyond the limits of other satellite providers.
There are still issues with the service, though. On Downdetector, Starlink customers report suffering from occasional outages and slowdowns and speeds are slowing as more and more customers sign up. (1) The US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has approved the launch of 7,500 more low-orbit satellites, though, so those average speeds could jump back up. (2)
According to Ookla’s satellite internet performance data from Q3 2023, Starlink outshines other satellite internet providers in terms of median download speed, upload speed, and latency. (3) Across the whole US, Starlink’s median download speed was 53 Mbps, down from about twice that the year before. That's still faster than HughesNet and Viasat, but about 100 Mbps slower than fixed broadband. While median download speed varied widely by location, it still remained within advertised ranges.
Starlink’s median upload speed (7.22 Mbps) was much higher than both HughesNet and Viasat. As expected, Starlink’s latency (67 ms) was remarkably lower than other satellite internet providers, but not as low as fixed broadband providers.
Smithville provides a wireless router to all customers with no additional rental fees, which is a good deal. You will pay an activation fee of $25, and if you need any lines run or jacks installed, you’ll pay for those too.
You do have the option of using your own equipment, but you’ll have to contact customer service to find out if your gear is compatible because this info isn’t available on the Smithville website. And if you need help troubleshooting your equipment, you’re on your own.
Unlike other satellite internet providers, Starlink does not require or even offer professional installation. Instead, you will be sent a Starlink Kit that contains all the hardware you need to install a Starlink dish yourself. Although the kit comes with a satellite dish and a base, you may want to purchase a mount to place the dish above ground level for a clearer view of the sky.
If you need internet while traveling, you'll need Starlink's kit for RVs.
To install Starlink, download the app on your phone and follow the instructions to find an unobstructed view and complete the setup. The do-it-yourself installation is designed to be straightforward, but it can take several hours. If technical issues arise, you can turn to Starlink customer support or an unofficial online community for help.
Unlike HughesNet and Viasat, Starlink doesn’t offer a leasing option for its equipment. Instead, customers have to buy the basic Starlink Kit for a high upfront cost of $599. That averages to about $25 per month if you spread the cost over two years, and that's higher than you'll pay for Viasat or HughesNet equipment. For a high-performance Starlink kit that can handle both freezing weather and temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the setup cost starts at $2,500 before taxes.
Smithville offers 24/7 tech support to all customers, which is helpful if you have trouble with its router, need wiring repairs or a jack replacement, or your service is otherwise interrupted and it’s the company's fault.
If a visiting technician discovers the problem was out of Smithville’s control, you’ll have to pay a $35 service fee and $90 technician fee for help. Most companies charge you only one of these fees. Smithville will waive these charges if you buy its Connection Protection plan for at least one year, at a cost of $3.95 per month. But technicians still won’t help you with your own equipment.
Starlink’s customer support seems to be struggling to keep up with the needs of its growing customer base. Along with sometimes inconsistent speeds and connectivity issues, this is leading to mixed experiences with the service.
Elon Musk, CEO of Starling recently said delays were most common in highly populated areas, but rural areas were the best place for the service, anyway. (4) There have also been reports of long delays in receiving Starlink equipment due to the effects of the global chip shortage on production. (5) Some customers who pre-ordered Starlink kits have had to wait over a year to receive them and received few updates from the company (6), but you can look up your address using this Starlink map to find out what to expect.
Other internet providers tend to offer more customer support options and be more reachable than Starlink. Starlink’s website does offer a customer support FAQ section, but there is no public contact phone number or email address. To contact the company directly for assistance, you have to log in and send customer support a message. On the plus side, it is possible to find help elsewhere. Starlink has an enthusiastic community of users who post helpful videos on YouTube and answer questions on Reddit.