Around 18 months ago, Microsoft had announced an initiative to close the rural broadband gap in the US by 2022. The initiative, called Microsoft Airband, is a five-year national effort to bring broadband access to 2 million unserved Americans living in rural communities.
Now, the tech giant is raising its goal and increasing the commitment, extending broadband access to 3 million Americans in rural areas by July 2022.
Every day, the world is evolving to become more digital, with the rise in adoption of cloud computing, new intelligent tools and services for productivity and communication. This enables everyone to do more, faster, and in ways that were not possible a generation ago.
However, these services and tools are still unavailable to around 25 million Americans, of which 19 million live in rural communities, as per the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This is because they don’t have access to broadband.
Despite the efforts of the FCC and US Department of Agriculture over the last five years, the adoption of broadband hasn’t budged much since 2013.
Without broadband connection, the people in rural communities can’t start a modern business, access telemedicine, take online classes, digitally transform their farms, or research a school project online.
Further, the countries that have the lowest broadband connectivity, have the highest unemployment rates, as per the data by US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Since the start of Microsoft Airband, the company has learnt that wireless technology can help in closing the broadband gap, rather than wired technology. It is because the wired technology takes longer to adopt.
For example, phone landlines, electricity, and cable TV have only reached 70% adoption even after 25 years of efforts. Whereas, the pace of adoption for cellphones neared 100% in just 14 years, and in just 8 years for smartphones.
Microsoft believes that a mixed model of wireless technologies including 4G and TV white spaces, traditional fiber-based connectivity, and satellite coverage will reduce the cost and time of extending broadband access to rural communities across America.
The tech giant has already formed partnerships in 16 states using the mixed model approach. It will bring broadband to over 1 million rural people who lack internet access. In next 12 months, the company will expand Microsoft Airband initiative to 25 states.
In these states, Microsoft will offer skills training in rural communities, and advocate for public policies to accelerate investment in TV white spaces technologies.
Microsoft is also forming effective partnerships with telecommunications providers and other groups to accelerate the initiative. Further, Microsoft Airband is also encouraging the federal, state and local governments to do the same.