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Microsoft Eyes Unused TV Channels To Deliver Rural Broadband

The broadcast spectrum that allowed people in isolated rural areas to watch television long before cable and satellite services could also provide underserved parts of the U.S. with access to broadband Internet service, according to Microsoft.

Yesterday, the company announced a plan to bring broadband connectivity to millions of rural residents through unused spectrum, so-called “white space,” in the 600 MHz UHF television bands. Microsoft, which has already used such technology to connect people to the Internet in other parts of the world, said it’s the most promising strategy for low-density communities where other broadband systems would be too expensive.

Nearly 34 million people in the U.S. lack access to advanced telecommunications capabilities, meaning broadband download speeds of 25 Mbps, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report. Of these, an estimated 23.4 million live in rural areas.


Goal: ‘Eliminate Rural Gap’ in 5 Years

“In urban America, we’ve thankfully become accustomed to ongoing capital investments to expand broadband capacity in areas that already have broadband coverage,” Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post yesterday. “But the time has come to extend this coverage to the rural areas that lack it entirely.”

Through its Rural Airband Initiative, Microsoft will partner with telecommunications companies to bring broadband Internet connectivity to 2 million people in remote parts of the U.S. by 2022, Smith said. Over the coming year, the effort will aim to have “at least 12 projects up and running in 12 states,” he said. In the long term, Microsoft’s goal is to help “eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022,” he said.

Microsoft will also work to provide training to residents in those areas to help people develop the skills they need to “improve education, health care…

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