Microsoft puts up $10B to bring broadband internet to millions of rural Americans

Microsoft recently detailed its Rural Airband Initiative, which collaborates with local providers to help two million Americans in remote areas get access to wireless internet over the next five years.

Lack of access to wireless internet has been a major problem for many rural Americans.

According to the 2016 Broadband Progress Report, which was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, 34 million people across the US still don't have access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service. The problem disproportionately affects rural Americans, however, 23 million of whom lack access to this service.

On Tuesday, Microsoft president Brad Smith is expected to unveil the company's new Rural Airband Initiative—a campaign that will attempt to close this gap. The ambitious plan—which Microsoft is investing $10 billion into—is an effort to provide two million Americans with broadband access by 2022. And for a dozen states, including Georgia, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin, Microsoft plans to invest seed money that could bring broadband access sooner, in under 12 months.

To successfully deliver affordable Wi-Fi, Microsoft plans to offer it through a TV White Space, a 600 MHz band dubbed "Super Wi-Fi."

Access to broadband is critical for those in rural communities. In March, TechRepublic's Teena Maddox reported on the FCC's announcement that it would stop fighting for broadband subsidies for low-income people, as well as stop offering companies the chance to offer broadband at lower rates—a reversal from President Obama's $7.2 investment to expand rural broadband access. "Technology, when used for good, has the ability to erase inequality between the poor and the rest of the world," Maddox wrote.

Microsoft says it does not plan to profit from the initiative, and will invest any profit into projects to provide internet access to communities in need.

In addition to the broadband plan, Microsoft is expected to announce the launch of a nonprofit that can help train those in rural communities to use broadband, especially those who want to use it for small businesses. And the company will offer a tech licensing program as an attempt to encourage investment in the private sector. It will also offer royalty-free and open source options for licensing over 30 patented innovations.

Microsoft's initiative follows on the heels of other initiatives, such as those from AT&T, Verizon, Google, that are developing plans to offer broadband access to rural communities.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. On Tuesday, Microsoft plans to announce the Rural Airband Initiative, a plan to give two million Americans broadband access by 2022. In a dozen states, broadband could become available in the next 12 months.
  2. The plan is a $10 billion investment by Microsoft, and the company intends to invest any profits into future plans to give communities in need access to broadband.
  3. The move follows on the heels of other initiatives, such as those from AT&T, Verizon, Google, that are developing plans to offer broadband access to rural communities.

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By Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.