Microsoft plans to unveil a new plan to bring broadband to more than 23 million people living without high-speed internet access in the rural United States to help close the digital divide.
Microsoft will announce the new project in a speech at Washington D.C., according to the Seattle Times, which broke the news. The Redmond, Washington-based company proposes a five-year program of corporate investment and matching federal and state grants to connect rural Americans to high-speed internet.
“One thing we’ve concluded is just how important broadband is for all kinds of things,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Seattle Times before the speech.
The project will rely on a new “white-space” technology, which beams internet data over unused television broadcast frequencies. Microsoft hopes to work with the government to collect information from local television stations about what part of their television spectrum goes unused.
The proposal has already drawn interest from the federal government and the White House, which is working on an infrastructure bill. White House officials are expected to attend the speech, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai plans to visit Microsoft’s pilot project in southern Virginia.
Microsoft hopes to run the white-space technology project, called the Rural Airband Initiative, in 12 states by 2018.
Along with Microsoft, Google and Facebook have both been looking to lay their own broadband technology into rural America. Google recently ditched its idea to lay fiber cables underneath houses and has been looking for a more wireless approach, which may involve small antennas. Facebook is also experimenting with two different kinds of antennas, one of which is able to beam data within a 24-mile radius.
In California, the digital divide has been dwindling. In 2016, California recorded its lowest percentage of people without broadband access at just 13 percent, according to a UC Berkeley study. However, a rising percentage of Californians only own a smartphone, which limits their ability to develop computing skills necessary in a digital economy and to run services that may work better on a desktop.
Photo: People walk past a Microsoft office in New York on Oct. 6, 2015. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Tags: Brad Smith, broadband access, facebook, Google, Microsoft, white space