Microsoft president outlines vision for rural broadband expansion

Microsoft just announced its plans to eliminate the gap in high-speed Internet access in rural parts of the country by using TV white spaces spectrum over the next five years.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said the company won't make money on the operations, but could benefit from serving rural users with its services, many of which run ads or require paid subscriptions.

"Nor are "white spaces" some panacea for the country's broadband ills: Even Microsoft acknowledges in its announcement that other technologies, like internet delivered by satellite, are necessary to improve connectivity in the country's most remote regions", ReCode points out. He says the powerful bandwidth will allow wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees.

Microsoft hopes to run the white-space technology project, called the Rural Airband Initiative, in 12 states by 2018. Finally, it has to overcome a signficant cost hurdle - hardware for use with white space-based broadband is expensive, though Microsoft told the Times that it will be able to get pricing down for hardware it'll demonstrate at an event today to below $200. For one, few manufacturers are making devices compatible with white-spaces technology, and some devices that can be used with the technology cost more than $1,000 each.

Almost 34 million people in the US lack access to advanced telecommunications capabilities, meaning broadband download speeds of 25 Mbps, according to the Federal Communication Commission's 2016 Broadband Progress Report.

Microsoft proposes to provide the technology and the cash and will recoup its investment by collecting a share of future service revenue.

A Microsoft executive told Bloomberg that the results of the 2016 election helped highlight how rural areas in the USA have lagged in Internet connectivity even as large tech companies have focused on areas outside the expand networks. Of these, an estimated 23.4 million live in rural areas. There, the tech company partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

Microsoft also plans to step up its investment into broadband expansion projects. Smith is now calling on the USA government to help with the effort.

The company plans to have pilot programs up and running within the next year in Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, New York and Maine.