To Close America’s Digital Divide, Microsoft to Harness Unused Television Channels

Silicon Valley has dreamed up hot air balloons, drones and constellations of mini-satellites to connect the world to the internet. Now Microsoft is adding its own moonshot to solve the digital divide into that mix.

The software giant plans to announce on Tuesday that it is harnessing the unused channels between television broadcasts, known as white spaces, to help get more of rural America online. In an event at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated a coast-to-coast telephone call a century ago, Microsoft plans to say that it will soon start a white-spaces broadband service in 12 states including Arizona, Kansas, New York and Virginia to connect two million rural Americans in the next five years who have limited or no access to high-speed internet.

In an interview, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said white spaces were “the best solution for reaching over 80 percent of people in rural America who lack broadband today.”

Also see:

Microsoft Pushes Fast Internet for U.S. Heartland to Bridge Broadband Gap
For years, Microsoft Corp. focused its efforts to expand high-speed internet access on developing markets around the world. Now, the company is waking up to the problem in its own backyard, after the 2016 presidential election shed light on how far rural parts of America had fallen behind cities in reliable, fast connectivity — and the challenges that gap poses for residents.

The software giant on Tuesday is calling for a national strategy that eliminates the rural broadband gap over the next five years. It's starting by funding projects to bring access to less-populated areas in 12 U.S. states in the next year, and will share the new technology with other companies that want to do the same. By 2022, the Redmond, Washington-based company plans to provide fast internet to 2 million people, using so-called white-spaces spectrum — the unused frequencies between TV channels. It will face some hurdles, including opposition from broadcasters reluctant to surrender airwaves. On Tuesday, a broadcasting group called Microsoft's proposal “the height of arrogance.”

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