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Microsoft Wants To Bring High-Speed Internet To Millions Of Americans In Rural Areas

11 July 2017, 4:03 pm EDT By Alexandra Burlacu Tech Times
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Millions of people in America don't have access to high-speed broadband internet, but Microsoft wants to change that. The company wants to tap unused television channels to connect millions of Americans in rural areas.  ( Drew Angerer | Getty Images )

Microsoft reportedly plans to announce a proposal to tap the unused spaces between television broadcasts to deliver high-speed broadband internet to more than 2 million Americans.

The unused channels between TV broadcasts are called white spaces and they're typically set aside for television channels, but they can also send internet data. Microsoft wants to use these white spaces to enhance broadband access in rural America, aiming to deliver high-speed internet across 12 states in the United States within the next five years.

High-Speed Broadband For Rural America

According to Microsoft president Brad Smith, white spaces make it possible to reach more than 80 percent of Americans who live in rural areas and don't have broadband, The New York Times reports. The 12 states Microsoft will initially target are Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, and Kansas.

"Millions of Americans, including millions of students, largely in rural communities, lack broadband internet access, which is a critical component of enabling success in today's digital society," Microsoft explained last month in a letter [PDF] to the Federal Communications Commission.

The company argued in the letter that using white spaces would be greatly beneficial to delivering wider broadband internet connectivity in rural America, as its research and community efforts have revealed.

How It Works

White spaces employ a frequency band that allows network operators to obtain a greater range of operation for wireless broadband signals, with less infrastructure and lower costs. Consequently, providers could tap those white spaces to expand their existing networks and reach areas where current technologies are not feasible.

The FCC could give a green light to use white spaces and ensure that each market has at least three white spaces channels and one vacant UHF channel, added Microsoft. The company reportedly wants to propose a hefty $10 billion program to make things happen but highlights that a regulatory certainty is essential to support the necessary investment.

Microsoft plans to offer more details on Tuesday, July 11, as well as demonstrate four devices that take advantage of white-space technology. According to Smith, such gadgets would be increasingly affordable, dropping below $200 by 2018. The technology would not be unprecedented, as Microsoft already tested this approach in Africa as part of its 4Afrika project, as well as in India through a pilot in Andhra Pradesh. The white space spectrum holds great promise and it's unused anyway, but it remains to be seen whether Microsoft's proposal will be successful.

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