Microsoft eyes buffer zone in TV airwaves for rural internet

To Close Digital Divide, Microsoft to Harness Unused Television Channels

Microsoft targets rural areas for new broadband service; NC not on first list

Microsoft is aiming to bring broadband Internet to millions of rural Americans within the next five years through what is now unused TV spectrum, the company announced on Tuesday.

"At Microsoft, we're prepared to invest our own resources to help serve as a catalyst for broader market adoption of this new model", says Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief legal officer.

The strategy of turning to unused TV spectrum, or white space, to expand high speed Internet access is not new to Microsoft, which has long sought to use vacant airwaves to provide cheap, wireless broadband. He says the powerful bandwidth will allow wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees. 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 wants the FCC to ensure that at least three channels below 700 MHz are kept unlicensed in all markets in the United States, with additional TV white spaces for even smaller markets and rural areas.

Thus, white space tech could bring broadband speeds to more than 24.3 million of people in rural America who do not have internet access.

Microsoft said its goal was not to become a telecom provider.

Smith noted that the company is not interested in entering the telecommunications business or even profit directly from the initiative. It will use the proceeds to invest in additional projects. The South Boston, Virginia-based telecommunications provider will contribute another $250,000 and use a $500,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

Forrester analyst James McQuivey called the plan a low-risk, high-reward effort for Microsoft, which might have to spend money in a lobbying fight with broadcasters, but stands to gain millions of new users. Its larger vision: to provide 2 million people in the US with broadband by 2022.

Smith will give a speech on Tuesday in which he plans to unveil a white paper outlining steps for the private and public sectors to take to connect the hard-to-reach areas of the country.

IL is not on that list, which includes Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, but if the program is successful it is expected to expand.

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