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  • Microsoft is working with Packerland Broadband to provide around 82,000 people in rural Wisconsin and Michigan access to broadband internet.
  • More people with broadband could boost SMBs and mean easier access for remote workers in the area.

Microsoft will be working with Packerland Broadband to bridge the internet gap in the rural US, the company’s president Brad Smith announced Sunday at the National Governors Association meeting.

The partnership could provide around 82,000 people living in rural Wisconsin and Michigan with access to broadband internet over the next four years, the press release said. More and better internet access can help people living in rural areas boost their SMBs, obtain information and education, and connect with others.

Around 34 million Americans, including 19.4 million people living in rural parts of the US, don’t have adequate broadband, according to the release. About 43% of rural Wisconsin and 34% of rural Michigan lack proper internet access and thus miss out on the benefits it can offer, Microsoft said.

“Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century, essential for education, business, agriculture, and health care,” Smith said.

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A mix of TV White Spaces and Wi-Fi hardware will be used to extend Packerland’s existing broadband, the release said.

In the partnership, area SMBs, consumers, and students will receive Windows devices and Office 365 software, along with digital skills training, the release said. These efforts and increased broadband access could boost local economies, as SMBs can connect with potential clients in other areas and better work with current clients.

Microsoft has been working to bridge the rural broadband gap in the US since July, when it said it hoped to eliminate the gap by 2022. In July, the company pledged $10 billion for its Rural Airband Initiative, which aims to help local providers bring broadband to 2 million people living in rural areas.

Other tech giants have been working to provide rural areas with internet, as well. Soon after Microsoft announced their initiative in July, AT&T and NetComm Wireless announced a plan to bring fixed-wireless broadband to 18 states.

The Trump administration has also been working to fast-track some of these efforts. In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order expediting some of the federal permit processes for providers trying to supply broadband in rural areas. Soon after, Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai proposed $500 million in funding for providers, and in February, the FCC launched a broadband map to see who has internet and where.