In 2017, Microsoft unveiled the Airband Initiative to bring broadband internet to two million people living in unserved rural areas in the U.S., a goal which was later increased to three million. This year, as part of the initiative, the tech giant has partnered up with the U.S. state of Vermont, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and more recently, with Watch Communications. Last month, Microsoft also termed the rural broadband gap an "urgent national crisis".
Now, the Redmond firm is teaming up with Nextlink Internet to further advance this initiative. Both companies will be aiming to serve high-speed internet access to more than nine million people in the Central U.S., with around one million of them living in rural areas.
Shelley McKinley, Vice President of Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft, commented on this partnership in the following way:
"It’s time to deliver on the connectivity promises that have been made to people across the country, and this partnership will help do that for many who have been left behind and unserved in the heartland of America. In the past two years with our Airband Initiative, we’ve seen that progress is possible — particularly when the public and private sectors come together. Partnerships with regional ISPs like Nextlink that have the desire and wherewithal to provide internet connectivity are a critical part of closing the broadband gap and helping families, children, farmers, businesses and whole communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century."
States in the U.S. that will benefit from this collaboration include Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Over 29 million people in these places are noted to be living without access to internet at broadband speeds. A number of broadband connectivity technologies will be deployed to significantly decrease the aforementioned figure. While work regarding this is already underway in Texas and Oklahoma, deployment efforts in the other four states will also commence immediately, with rollouts planned through 2024.
Nextlink's CEO, Bill Baker, detailed the advantages offered by this partnership, noting:
"Nextlink is tremendously excited about the opportunity to join forces with Microsoft. This agreement will accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access to underserved areas that are desperate for this critical service. This in turn will make those areas more attractive for employers who require high-speed broadband to operate. By itself, this project is going to generate hundreds of full-time, long-term jobs in rural communities as Nextlink builds out and services the required networks. The overall impact to rural communities in terms of job creation and increased viability for all employers is tremendous."
These states also contribute around $120 billion in annual agricultural value for the U.S., or 29% of the agricultural output of the country. Microsoft believes broadband internet will provide farmers in these areas with better access to information regarding their crops, and thus, increase the economic output. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that connected tech in widespread use could increase the annual gross benefit in the U.S. by $47 billion.
Microsoft and Nextlink will be ensuring that once increased connectivity is provided, people living in these states are also given the necessary digital skills training to benefit them further.