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Microsoft wants to close the rural broadband gap with TV white spaces

Microsoft wants to close the rural broadband gap with TV white spaces

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Microsoft wants to improve rural broadband access by using TV white spaces spectrum, and eliminate the gap across the US over the next five years. Currently, in many rural parts of America you have to rely on poor cable connections, radio-powered modems, or even satellite technology to get access to the internet. The speeds are usually not adequate enough to even stream Netflix episodes, let alone browse the web properly.

Unused TV white spaces operating in the 600 MHz frequency range will be repurposed for Microsoft's projects, and these frequencies have enough bandwidth to help deliver internet to thousands of homes. Microsoft is using it’s using previous experience deploying white spaces projects in 17 different countries to execute its ambitious plans. “At Microsoft, we’re prepared to invest our own resources to help serve as a catalyst for broader market adoption of this new model,” says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer. Microsoft is creating a Rural Airband Initiative that will invest in partnerships with telecommunications companies to create 12 projects in 12 states over the next 12 months.

Microsoft doesn't want to be a telecommunications company

“Our goal is not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects,” explains Smith. “We will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further. We’re confident that this approach is good for the country and even for our business. After all, if 23 million additional customers can access the internet at broadband speeds, every tech company in America will benefit.”

Microsoft is aiming to connect 2 million people with its own investments, and eventually helping partners serve more than 20 million people with rural broadband connections. Smith is now calling on the US government to help with the effort. Microsoft wants the FCC to ensure that at least three channels below 700 MHz are kept unlicensed in all markets in the US, with additional TV white spaces for even smaller markets and rural areas. Microsoft also wants to see increased funding with infrastructure investments targeted towards broadband coverage in rural areas and improved data collection for rural broadband coverage.

“As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors,” explains Smith.  “To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation. "