Microsoft has announced plans to invest in partnerships with telecommunications companies in an effort to close the rural broadband gap. The so-called Rural Airband Initiative already has plans for 12 projects in 12 states that should get going within a year, building wireless networks using TV "white spaces" spectrum operating in the 600 MHz frequency range.
“Our goal is not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves,” says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer. “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 estimates that the total capital and initial operating cost to eliminate the rural broadband gap falls into a range of $8 to $12 billion. Although it’s preset to invest their own resources into the project, it’s also calling for a few related governmental measures.
The company 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 for the FCC to accelerate its work collecting and publicly reporting on the state of broadband coverage in rural counties.
According to data from the FCC, 34 million Americans lack access to broadband with at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds, and 23.4 million of those live in rural areas.
The company believes it can connect two million rural Americans to high-speed wireless broadband within the next five years. Aside from investing its resources, Microsoft is also offering royalty-free access to its patents and sample source code, so others can get to work too.
"If 23 million additional customers can access the Internet at broadband speeds, every tech company in America will benefit," the company wrote in its announcement.