About 34 million Americans still lack broadband internet access. Of these 34 million people, 23.4 million live in rural parts of the country. Microsoft today announced its plans to close this rural broadband gap in the United States within the next five years by July 4, 2022.
Microsoft’s new Rural Airband Initiative will invest in partnerships with telecom companies with the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 2 million people in rural America by 2022. They have plans for 12 projects up and running in 12 states in the next 12 months. Microsoft made it clear that they are not planning to enter the network business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects. Microsoft will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup their investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further.
Microsoft will invest in digital skills training for people of all ages in these newly connected communities. Microsoft announced a new partnership with the National 4-H Council to improve education, health care, agriculture, businesses using the new connectivity services.
Microsoft announced a new technology program which will stimulate investment through royalty-free access to at least 39 patents and sample source code related to technology they have developed to better enable broadband connectivity through TV white spaces spectrum.
Microsoft also mentioned that below three related governmental measures are needed for this mission to succeed.
- The FCC needs to ensure the continued use of the spectrum needed for this mixed technology model. Specifically, it will be important for the FCC to ensure that three channels below 700 MHz are available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country, with additional TV white spaces available in smaller markets and rural areas.
- Federal and state infrastructure investments should include targeted funds on a matching basis for the capital investments that will best expand coverage into rural areas that currently lack broadband access today.
- The FCC should help in improved data collection regarding rural broadband coverage by accelerating its work to collect and report publicly on the state of broadband coverage in rural counties, thereby aiding policy makers and the private sector in making targeted investments.
Learn more about this announcement here.