Microsoft Plans To Give Rural Americans Internet Using TV Signal

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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Microsoft plans to improve internet access in remote areas of the U.S. by using TV waves to augment broadband signals, the company announced Tuesday.

The company’s goal is “to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post.

Of the 34 million Americans that do not have access to high-speed internet, “23.4 million live in rural parts of our country,” Smith said. About 55 percent of people in rural areas have the option of fast download speeds of 25 megabits per second, compared to 94 percent of urban areas that have access to high-speed service, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Improving access to internet in rural areas also a political priority of President Donald Trump’s Rural Energy Task Force. Internet connectivity “is becoming the roads, the water, the sewers, of the 21st century,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the June 15 inaugural meeting of the task force.

Politicians are uncertain how to actually accomplish the massive internet expansion, but most experts say that a successful initiative will take both federal and state investments, in addition to private funding. (RELATED: Trump’s Rural Internet Initiative Could Cost $80 Billion)

Microsoft’s plan relies on the Federal Communication Commission ensuring that at least three TV channels of a certain spectrum, the “so-called TV white spaces,” are “available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country,” according to a white paper.

The white spaces, traditionally reserved for broadcasters, can transmit broadband frequencies and combined with 4G and fiber connections, could drive the cost down to between $8 billion and $12 billion.

Some critics say that Microsoft’s plan to use white spaces won’t really work. “We think increasing rural broadband is a good idea but not the way Microsoft is proposing it,” Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, told The Washington Post. “They are making a lot of wild promises. Their white-space idea has been around for over a decade and has proven to be a compete, abject failure.”

Microsoft plans to roll out its white space connectivity in Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, New York and Maine.

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