Microsoft announced a drive to improve rural broadband connectivity in the US by utilising unused TV spectrum, as well as invest in partnerships with telecoms companies.
In a blog post, the company’s President and chief legal officer Brad Smith unveiled a new strategy pledging “to eliminate the rural broadband gap”, with Microsoft initially committing to a five year effort to bring broadband connectivity to 2 million people in rural America by 2022.
Smith said Microsoft would pursue direct investments with partners, with the goal of having at least 12 projects up and running in 12 states within the next year.
However, he was adamant the long-term goal was “not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects”.
“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,” he said.
White space spectrum
Dubbed the Rural Airband Initiative, Microsoft is driving an effort to begin repurposing TV white space spectrum operating in the 600MHz band to decrease the rural gap.
It said the spectrum enables wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees, and the company itself holds considerable experience with this spectrum “having deployed 20 TV white spaces projects in 17 countries, serving 185,000 users.
While its initial effort revolves around a target of 2 million people, Microsoft noted there are 23 million underserved rural Americans.
To reach all of them and eliminate the broadband gap completely would cost up to $12 million, it said.
“This is roughly 80 per cent less than the cost of using fibre cables alone, and it’s over 50 per cent cheaper than the cost of current fixed wireless technology like 4G,” added Smith.
While Microsoft is betting improved rural connectivity could deliver user growth benefits in the long term, the strategy is reportedly already under fire.
Reuters reported broadcasters are opposed to sharing the spectrum.