Another bid to close the rural digital divide

Microsoft plans 12 pilot projects using TV white spaces spectrum that it says will increase broadband access in rural communities.

While the Federal Communications Commission opened up unlicensed, low-frequency bands in the radio-frequency spectrum for public use in 2010, efforts are just getting underway to explore opportunities to offer low-cost Wi-Fi that takes advantage of this spectrum to reach underserved communities.  On June 10, Microsoft announced one of the plans to connect 2 million people to broadband in rural America by 2022 using TV white spaces.

White spaces refer to the unused spectrum in the UHF television bands that could be used to reach rural communities underserved by current broadband plans. Most communities use only a handful of the 35 UHF channels still reserved for television in the United States.

Microsoft's Rural Airband Initiative will rely on middle- and last-mile broadband providers to connect communities to Super Wi-Fi and provide training and support for 12 projects in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Microsoft will also stimulate more investment in the space with royalty-free access to at least 39 patents and sample source code to develop better TV white space technology.

The first TV white space project is a collaboration between Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and Microsoft to bring broadband access to the homes of thousands of students in Charlotte and Halifax counties in southern Virginia.

A non-profit, independent organization, MBC is leveraging the experience it gained creating fiber networks across 26 counties through the Middle Mile Expansion for Eastern Virginia. The project, which was funded by a  $10 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, built  170 miles of new fiber to complement MBC's existing network in southeastern Virginia, providing backbone speeds of up to 100 gigabit/sec. The Middle Mile Expansion, which was completed in 2013, allowed schools to access upgraded, higher capacity services at affordable rates.

With support from local internet service provider B2X Online for the last mile connection, MBC is now working to reach more than 3,000 students in 1,000 homes by the end of 2017.

“We have the ability to leverage what has already been built from the BTOP program to all of the schools, take that infrastructure and add on additional activity to support the TV white space spectrum project,” MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso told GCN.   

Using TV white space equipment from Adaptrum, students will be able to tap into free broadband for their homework using technology placed on cell towers and client radios installed in at individual homes.

“We decided to bring connectivity from schools to homes," Deriso said, but now the local ISP is "trying the service for other customers who don’t have kids in school and are willing to pay for it."

The exact locations for Microsoft’s other TV white space pilots have not been disclosed, but they are expected to focus on four specific sectors: small businesses, improving healthcare, education and agriculture.

Microsoft initially tested TV white space technology near its headquarters in Seattle. In March 2015 Mayor Ed Murray announced a pilot project for a 74-acre urban campus in the city called Seattle Center.

The city and Microsoft both decided not to move beyond the pilot stage, however.

“Through various trials and pilots, including one in Seattle, Microsoft and our partners have validated that TV white spaces is a viable technology and is particularly well-suited for bringing broadband to remote areas,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We’ve completed the pilot at Seattle Center and our focus now is on helping to eliminate the rural broadband gap with 12 projects in rural areas around the country over the next 12 months.”

Microsoft’s efforts to increase broadband access are only the latest efforts by major technology companies to cross the digital divide.  In 2013, Comcast invested heavily in low-cost broadband option called Internet Essentials, and Sprint and Clearwire launched a $10 a month broadband option through Freedom Pop.

Not everyone considers these initiatives a net positive.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, sees these tech companies making investments in broadband access as a way to get customers to spend more on internet-enabled products and activities.

“It is in their best interest to create public internet access [that allows people] … to be connected to the internet inexpensively all of the time because they are moving their products to the cloud,” Calabrese said.

Microsoft’s TV white space announcement also comes just under four months after the FCC conducted an incentive auction to sell off spectrum in the 600 MHz band for flexible use. In April, the FCC began a 39-month process to transition some TV stations to new channel assignments.

“After the incentive auction, all of the channels will be operating below channel 37, which means that there will be fewer TV white space channels,” Calabrese said.  “It took five years after Congress passed the incentive auction for the FCC to process it, but in the meantime, there will be uncertainty about how much white space will be available.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.