Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Microsoft launches coalition to bring broadband internet to rural America; its proposed solution is controversial

"Microsoft, along with a slew of rural broadband and technology groups, is launching a new issue advocacy coalition called Connect Americans Now that aims to eliminate the digital divide in rural America," Sara Fischer reports for Axios. "It's part of a greater push by the company and others to close the broadband gap by using TV 'white spaces' spectrum — or vacant channels.that use TV frequencies that are generally cheaper than fiber optic cable." That's important because 23.4 million rural Americans lack a broadband connection.

CAN will urge the Federal Communications Commission to reserve unlicensed low-band vacant channels in every U.S. market to make white-space technology more viable. National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith urged caution on C-SPAN though, saying that "it made no sense to push forward with opening up more TV spectrum to unlicensed use before the FCC determined how much would be needed for licensed broadcasters in the repack," John Eggerton reports for CNN. "Smith said he thought rural broadband should be part of an infrastructure package and that there could be room for Microsoft once the technology is more 'proven up.'"

White-space tech is a controversial solution to the rural broadband problem. Some have speculated that Microsoft's endgame for promoting white-space tech has little to do with rural America, and some agriculture lobbyists have protested that it will hurt the ability of low-powered rural television stations to broadcast. But there's little doubt the tech has the potential to be a game changer in rural America.

Microsoft has already given white-space technology a trial run, providing broadband connections in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after their infrastructure was severely damaged by hurricanes last year. The tech giant has made other investments in rural broadband as well, recently announcing public-private partnerships with small metro and rural communities in six states to invest in tech and tech jobs, including broadband internet.

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