Closing in on three years since the launch of its five-year Rural Airband Initiative, Microsoft has today provided an annual update on how it will be moving ahead in the coming months. For those unaware, the aforementioned project was introduced to eliminate the rural broadband gap in the U.S., bringing broadband access to millions of unserved people.
In the latter half of last year, a number of partnerships with other organizations were announced in this regard. Microsoft went as far as to term the broadband gap an "urgent national crisis", and vowed to connect 40 million people to the internet by 2022 as part of this initiative.
The Redmond giant believes that the progress it has made thus far has been good, but the problem is even bigger than it initially forecasted. A recent FCC study has been quoted as stating that around 21 million people in the U.S. don't have access to high-speed internet. This figure falls quite short of Microsoft's own findings that indicate the presence of around 157 million such Americans. Inaccurate data, as such, has been noted to be one of the most major problems due to which communities to which the aforementioned people belong still find themselves unserved.
Moving on, Microsoft has outlined the steps it has taken and will be taking as part of this initiative. The firm is currently in the process of providing broadband support in 25 states, one territory, and pilot programs in two further states. The number of people it has served since 2018 have increased from 24,000 to 633,000, with plans to accelerate further. The following collaborations are lined up for the future:
"Partners such as Wisper Internet will work to bring broadband access to almost 1 million people in rural unserved areas in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. In Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, our partner Watch Communications will bring high-speed internet access to more than 860,000 people living in unserved rural areas. Our partnerships also bring connectivity to historically underserved communities, including those residing on tribal lands. Sacred Wind Communications will help approximately 47,000 people on and off Navajo lands in New Mexico reap the benefits that come with access to the internet."
Microsoft has also praised the FCC's efforts to promote the use of TV white spaces devices (TVWS) through positive changes to the technology's regulations. The commission has also announced that it will be making $20 billion available in Rural Digital Opportunity funding with similar goals as the Airband Initiative.
Further along the path to connectivity, Microsoft has noted its efforts to spread the benefits of its work into other sectors as well. These include education, agriculture, healthcare, and more. The tech giant has previous collaborated with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and it plans to continue in similar vein through other team-ups as well.
Closing off, concerns regarding the current state of broadband access in the U.S. have been restated yet again. Broadband access can pave the way to lifting up rural America, notes Microsoft, but "technological progress doesn't wait".