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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company's annual shareholders meeting. (GeekWire Photo.)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company’s annual shareholders meeting. (GeekWire Photo.)

Microsoft is donating $1 billion in cloud services to nonprofit groups and universities around the world over the next three years to “encourage widespread use of the public cloud for public good.” The company says it will provide a range of cloud services, including access to Azure cloud computing and Office 365 programs, to more than 70,000 nonprofits and 300 new universities.

The move was announced in an opinion piece by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in the Financial Times titled, “We cannot afford another digital divide.”

In the piece, Nadella outlines the advantages of cloud computing for nonprofit organizations and argues for “a balanced regulatory environment” the takes into account both privacy and access, which would make cloud computing resources more available to nonprofits worldwide.

Microsoft has followed a similar approach with startups, offering free software and services for three years through its BizSpark program. However, that effort is aimed in part at ultimately converting startups into paying customers as they grow into larger companies, whereas the new program for nonprofits appears to be more in the realm of philanthropy.

The donation of cloud services is the first big announcement from the new Microsoft Philanthropies group, which focuses on bringing advanced technology to those who would otherwise be left out.

The donations expand Microsoft’s current philanthropic efforts, which already provides Azure cloud computing at 600 universities. But the donation will also reach outside of academia, helping nonprofits solve some of the world’s biggest problems as outlined by the United Nations in September, including providing affordable energy and ending poverty and hunger.

Microsoft hopes that by using Azure to better capture and analyze data, nonprofits can run more efficiently and universities will be able to accelerate research projects.

The philanthropic effort will also see Microsoft helping to convert unused television airwaves into internet-providing bandwidth, reaching to close the gap in last-mile connectivity. In turn, the company says, that will help nonprofits and non-governmental organizations utilize donated services where Internet connections were previously hard to come by.

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