Microsoft has a plan to improve broadband connections in rural America, a population that currently relies on poor cable connections, radio-powered modems or satellite technology for Internet access. How are they going to execute such an immense undertaking? By using the TV white spaces spectrum. While this may sound ambitious, even for a company like Microsoft, the tech giant will utilize its experience with similar white-space projects they’ve deployed across 17 different countries around the globe.  

Poor Connectivity in Rural America 

Rural America suffers from suboptimal Internet connectivity. There are roughly 23 million Americans living in rural areas of the country whose broadband speeds are often inadequate for accessing content providers like Netflix, YouTube or Hulu, let alone for browsing the web properly. According to Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer, “As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors. To the contrary, we can, and should, bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation.” 

Bridging the Broadband Gap With the TV White Spaces Spectrum 

The key to this ambitious project is capitalizing on unused TV white space to alleviate connection issues. Essentially, TV white spaces are just unused TV channels. These empty channels can deliver broadband access and services. It works much like Wi-Fi, leading many to call it “Super Wi-Fi.” Explore the full technical details here. It may seem like a stretch, but repurposing TV white spaces operating in the 600 MHz frequency range provides enough bandwidth to deliver Internet to thousands of homes. What’s more, Microsoft is creating a Rural Airband Initiative to invest in partnerships with top telecom companies for a total of 12 projects, in 12 states, over the next year. To help solidify the plan, Smith is calling on the U.S. government to keep at least three channels below 700 MHz unlicensed in all markets in the U.S., with additional TV white spaces for smaller markets and rural areas.   

Microsoft Plans to Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is 

Microsoft aims to connect two million people with its own investments and eventually serve more than 20 million people with rural broadband connections through telecom partnerships. “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. “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.”  

Microsoft also hopes this initiative will spur much-needed funding for infrastructure investments targeted toward broadband coverage in rural areas and improved data collection for rural broadband coverage.  

Want to read more about initiatives for expanding connectivity to rural America? Learn more about the USDA granting $43.6 million for rural fiber expansion. 

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