Microsoft wants to work with the government to help connect rural Americans to broadband internet.
The tech giant on Monday revealed its new “Rural Airband Initiative,” a three-pronged plan that aims to help bring broadband connectivity to two million people living in rural communities within the next five years.
Microsoft will partner with telecommunications companies across 12 states over the next year — Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin — and invest in capital projects before seeking a revenue share from operators to recoup investment. It will use the proceeds to invest in additional projects.
The company’s philanthropic arm will also put money toward tech training for people living in rural communities; Microsoft has already inked a partnership with the National 4-H Council to do so.
Finally, Microsoft said it will offer royalty-free access to at least 39 patents and sample source code related to technology that helps improve broadband connectivity in rural areas through the use of TV white spaces spectrum. Microsoft has spent years developing technology that helps utilize this wireless spectrum.
The Redmond-based company will share more details in an official announcement Tuesday morning. Update: You can read Microsoft President Brad Smith’s blog post about the initiative here; the company’s 54-page white paper on the rural broadband strategy is here.
Citing new research from The Boston Consulting Group, Microsoft said by using a combination of that TV spectrum, along with technologies like fixed wireless and satellite coverage, providing access to rural communities can be done cheaper and more efficiently than ever. The company estimates that 23.4 million Americans in rural communities lack broadband internet access.
But Microsoft also wants government to get involved. It is asking the FCC to make the TV white spaces spectrum bands available in every market and to improve its data collection processes around rural broadband coverage. Microsoft already expressed its position on the white spaces to the FCC earlier this year.
In addition, Microsoft is asking for federal and state-supported infrastructure investments on a “matching basis” with private funds. That aligns with the Trump administration’s recent proposal for how to fund infrastructure spend.