Broadband Access: Microsoft’s Update on Connecting Rural America

By at 12 December, 2018, 11:23 pm

The Airband Initiative

by Karen Kerrigan-

On December 4, I attended an event hosted by Microsoft president Brad Smith where he provided an update on the company’s “Airband Initiative.” This important project is a five-year commitment made by Microsoft to bring quality broadband access to 2 million unserved rural Americans by July 2022, utilizing unassigned broadcast spectrum know as “TV White Spaces.” At the event, Smith upped that commitment to 3 million and expanded the number of states to 25 by the same date.

The Airband project has already established partnerships in 16 states, which will bring broadband to 1 million residents who lack access.  According to the written update on the project:

“Through these partnerships, we have demonstrated that fixed wireless technologies including TV white spaces technologies, alongside traditional fiber optic and satellite coverage, can be the most cost-effective way to expand broadband availability in rural communities.”

SBE Council has been very active in advocating for policies that will accelerate the opportunity and success of TV white spaces (TVWS) technology, including the need for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to dedicate at least three usable channels (below 700 MHZ) of spectrum for TV white space transmission in markets across the country. (See my recent blog post on this issue here: “Don’t Forget About “Broadband for All” here.)

The FCC’s is considering the issue, but has yet to take action. However, Commissioner Mike O’Reilly recently tweeted that he is instructing his staff to gather additional information about the success of the Airband project.

SBE Council Joins Coalition Letter Urging FCC Action

On December 4, SBE Council joined a coalition of organizations, and signed a letter urging all FCC Commissioners to act on the TVWS issue:

“We write to you to encourage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt the right technical rules and make adequate spectrum available as soon as possible for white space broadband use. This step is urgently needed to help address the digital divide in the United States. Television White Space (TVWS) technology can help bring broadband access to underserved rural areas, helping to give substantially more Americans access to the internet. This can happen if the FCC adopts appropriate technical rules and makes the necessary spectrum available for the use of white spaces for broadband.”

Read the full letter here.

For too many years, our elected officials and policymakers have talked about bringing broadband to rural America. Private sector America – led by Microsoft – is doing it. Government policies and actions need to enable and encourage this private sector investment and innovative solutions.

Read more about Microsoft’s Airband Initiative here.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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