Microsoft to expand rural broadband access initiative to 25 states
- Microsoft will expand its program to bring broadband access to rural communities in 25 states by the end of next year. Through the widened Airband Initiative, Microsoft says it seeks to bring broadband access to 3 million Americans by July 2022, up from its original goal of 2 million.
- Microsoft works with local internet providers and businesses to seek innovative ways to deliver broadband internet, especially with TV white spaces technology that sends data through unused TV channels. Over the 18 months of the Airband Initiative, the price of TV white spaces network connectivity devices has dropped from roughly $800 to less than $300.
- In a blog post, Microsoft said it wants the federal government to reallocate “just a small additional fraction of public money” to incentivize more TV white spaces devices, to “help accelerate adoption, bring costs of devices down and help the ecosystem lift off.” Updating regulations around the network could also help bring more people online, the company says.
There’s been increasing federal and business attention on the estimated 24 million Americans who lack broadband access, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). President Trump included $50 billion in his infrastructure plan for rural efforts, including broadband. A January report from a federal task force on agriculture and rural prosperity identified the "expansion of high-speed, high-capacity internet" as a "key infrastructure priority,” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has distributed millions of dollars in grants to communities for internet connectivity.
Interestingly, Microsoft says that FCC’s estimates are actually low, and that many more Americans are disconnected from high-speed broadband based on its own research. That echoes existing complaints with the FCC’s connectivity maps, including from FCC commissioners themselves (Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel has said the current map did not reflect service at her own house). More accurate data, the company says, is necessary to understand and solve the problem.
Private companies are also stepping in to help fill the void (and expand their potential customer base). Microsoft’s Airband Initiative launched last summer and is already active in 16 states. Others have been investing in fiber infrastructure or satellite broadband delivery, which has caught the attention of Google and Facebook, among others.
Advocates have also pointed out that amid the concerns with rural broadband, many urban residents also lack adequate access. It’s a problem some have tried to solve through new infrastructure, education and awareness of discounted service.
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