Microsoft to Propose Plan to Bridge Digital Divide in Rural U.S.

July 11, 2017, 12:20 PM UTC

Microsoft plans to push TV spectrum for providing Internet connectivity to rural America. Microsoft president Brad Smith is set to outline the program Tuesday in Washington D.C., according to various reports.

The company has long pushed for the use of white spaces, a term referring to unlicensed spectrum between broadcast channels to bring the Internet to underserved communities, notably in Africa. Now the company wants to apply that technology closer to home, according to Bloomberg which reported that the company hopes to bring fast Internet to 2 million Americans over the next five years, with funding focusing on 12 rural states.

Smith told The New York Times that white spaces are the best way to reach 80% of people in rural America who lack broadband today.

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That’s a lot of people, but it’s just a start to connect the estimated 23 million Americans without fast, reliable Internet access—that’s an estimated 39% of the population of rural status.

The Seattle Times said the effort represents a $10 billion investment from the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. Fortune contacted Microsoft and will update this story as needed.

There’s appeal in this idea. Using this spectrum would be cheaper than deploying miles of fiber cable to far flung regions. But broadcasters are not wild about the idea of ceding this spectrum, and the Federal Communications Commission would have to free up the channels.

Microsoft is not alone in trying to make Internet access more ubiquitous. Google (GOOG) parent company Alphabet has backed Project Loon, which uses high-flying balloons as Internet connectivity points. Facebook has its own Project Aries, which would deploy cell-towers and base stations to do the same thing.

Broadening access to fast, reliable Internet to more people is a laudable goal. But all of these companies also want more users to access their computing services, so this is a case of tech companies hoping to do well by doing good.

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