Microsoft to employ unused TV channels to offer rural broadband

Posted July 12, 2017

The company plans to enter into collaborations with local telecom companies on 12 projects in 12 states over the next year in order to use the technology to provide Americans with Internet connections.

Microsoft president Brad Smith laid out his vision on Tuesday for a new effort to bring broadband internet access to rural communities.

Through its Rural Airband Initiative, Microsoft will partner with telecommunications companies to bring broadband Internet connectivity to 2 million people in remote parts of the U.S.by 2022, Smith said.

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. He says the powerful bandwidth will allow wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft estimates that it would be possible to connect rural America using white space for $15 billion, compared to up to $65 billion if fiber were used. "Microsoft's white space device development has been a well-documented, unmitigated failure". Microsoft estimates that over 23 million Americans in the countryside lack high-speed internet access.

A Microsoft executive told Bloomberg that the results of the 2016 election helped highlight how rural areas in the USA have lagged in Internet connectivity even as large tech companies have focused on areas outside the U.S.to expand networks.

However, Microsoft doesn't intent to become a communications provider. It will use the proceeds to invest in additional projects.

Microsoft also released a video where they explain their mission for the Rural Airband Initiative in Virginia.

Microsoft also plans to step up its investment into broadband expansion projects.

"We're looking at this to be price competitive for people in urban areas", Mr. Smith said.

Smith calls it a strategic approach combining private sector capital investments with public sector support.

IL is not on that list, which includes Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, but if the program is successful it is expected to expand. Lastly, Microsoft plans to invest in digital skills training for people in rural communities as well.