Microsoft Seeking to Spread High-Speed Internet Access in Rural Areas

The tech giant hopes to connect two million people in five years

Microsoft Seeking to Spread High-Speed Internet Access in Rural Areas
Image: Microsoft
July 11, 2017

Tech company Microsoft is working on a way to get Internet access to millions of rural consumers.

Millions Left Out

The software company estimates that there are 23.4 million people in rural areas across the country who do not have access to high-speed Internet.

As NPR notes, until now Microsoft has been more focused on bringing Internet access to less-developed areas in other countries. Although this has not been a bad goal, it has left out millions of people in the company's home country.

"We perhaps looked less than we should have at what was happening in rural America," Microsoft President Brad Smith says. "We went overseas, and that's a good thing. We should be around the world. But we should also be focused on our own backyards."

Election Effects

Bloomberg notes that the company's new efforts—which it calls the Rural Airband Initiative—are largely a result of the 2016 presidential election, "when rural voters expressed dissatisfaction and anger over being left out of economic and technological growth."

Microsoft wants to close the gap over the next five years. To start this project off, it is funding projects that will bring access to rural areas in 12 states over the next year. It hopes that two million more people will have high-speed Internet access by 2022.

To provide this access, the software giant will use what is known as the white-spaces spectrum, which refers to the unused frequencies between television channels. According to Smith, it will be 80 percent less expensive to use the spectrum than a fiber connection, and 50 percent less than wireless—a crucial factor in the face of a federal budget that policy experts say will not be enough to spread service.

A Modern Necessity

Internet access has become almost required in the modern world. Kids can't complete and submit their homework without it. Job seekers can't apply for work without it. Although public spaces such as libraries and cafes often provide free Wi-Fi, these are often inconvenient options and are certainly not permanent ones.

According to Bloomberg, the company has been trying out a pilot version of the program in Charlotte and Halifax Counties in southern Virginia. It's already paid off for at least one family, Gwen Harris and her son Dylan. Thanks to the new high-speed access, Dylan was able to complete both his high school education and a community college associate degree program—accomplishments that would have been much more difficult with the family's old dial-up or satellite connections.

Dylan is now heading to Old Dominion University to study computer science.