Microsoft Eyes Unused TV Channels To Deliver Rural Broadband

A receiver used to extend broadband internet over unused parts of the TV broadcast spectrum is seen at a Charlotte County Virginia home

Microsoft plans to partner with rural telecommunications providers in 12 states stretching from Washington to ME to get about 2 million rural Americans connected to high-speed internet over the next five years.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said the company won't make money on the operations, but could benefit from serving rural users with its services, many of which run ads or require paid subscriptions.

The company is expected to announce on Tuesday plans to use the unused channels between television broadcasts, called white spaces, to bring internet to much of rural America.

It is understood that FCC chairman Ajit Pai is to travel to areas of southern Virginia to visit a pilot project that demonstrates Microsoft's Rural Airband technology. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft estimates that it would be possible to connect rural America using white space for $15 billion, compared to up to $65 billion if fiber were used.

"Our goal is not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects", explains Smith.

Although the buffer zones, known as white spaces, are now unused, Wharton said they are important for preventing adjacent channels from interfering with each other. Microsoft will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup their investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further.


Microsoft wants to make sure even the hard-to-reach places in the USA have access to speedy internet service.

The company notes that 5 million people now live without access to the Internet. Of these 34 million people, 23.4 million live in rural parts of the country. There, the tech company partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

Microsoft has a plan to get everyone in the U.S. fixed wireless broadband access.

"We're looking at this to be price competitive for people in urban areas", Mr. Smith said.

IL is not on that list, which includes Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, but if the program is successful it is expected to expand.

Microsoft also shared its plans to work with groups like the National 4-H Council, an organization committed to providing leadership and resources to youths across the country, as an effort to boost digital literacy among young people.

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