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July 12, 2017

Microsoft continues push to reduce digital divide with rural internet drive

by John_A

Why it matters to you

If you or someone you care about lives in a rural community with poor internet access, Microsoft is hoping to change that over the next five years.

Microsoft is continuing its plans to bridge the digital gap between rural and urban areas by driving a national initiative to bring high-speed internet to those in areas where current connection options are poor and few in number. To aid that effort, it is investing in technology that will leverage so-called white spaces in the spectrum, to provide solid wireless connections to rural communities.

White spaces are the unused frequencies allocated to various broadcasting networks that sit idle and arguably wasted. Microsoft wants to make use of those in its latest efforts, though this is not the first time it tried something like this. Earlier in 2017, it prototyped such a system with its “Homework Network” in rural Virginia, which brought high-speed internet to those who live near schools.

But that was just the start of Microsoft’s plans. Moving forward, it plans to expand this scheme to many more rural communities, fronting the costs for local telecommunications companies and then drawing some of the revenue from the service once it is up and running. Those funds will then, in turn, be reinvested in similar communities to continue the practice.

Microsoft’s chief legal officer Brad Smith made it clear that the company has no plans to enter the telecoms market, nor make a profit from these initiatives, according to WinSuperSite. Indeed, much of the project will be managed by Microsoft’s philanthropy arm, which will work in tandem with organizations like National 4-H Council to provide digital skill training to rural communities.

It wants other companies to get involved though. While Microsoft’s white-space internet plans will help reach as many as 2 million people by 2022, that is less than 10 percent of the current U.S. population who do not have access to high-speed internet. To that end, Microsoft is also calling on other large American tech companies to aid in the effort and ease people’s access to broadband services.

That could prove crucial, as the cost of compatible hardware with white-space technology is one of the largest hurdles, as The New York Times points out. However, Microsoft has already made big in-roads in this area, helping to lower the price of compatible hardware by as much as 80 percent in some cases.

Other plans will see Microsoft call on federal and local legislators to remove the red tape and encourage uptake by not only companies but communities too, who may as yet not understand the benefits white space internet access can grant. Helping smaller, local telecoms companies thrive in the hotly competitive industry could also go a long way to easing current issues with rural broadband connections.




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