UPDATE Microsoft is increasing pledges for its Airband Initiative, the program that uses several technologies, including TV White Spaces (TVWS), to bring high-speed connectivity to rural areas. Company President Brad Smith said at a lunch event in Washington, D.C., yesterday, the company is raising its goal to bring broadband access to 3 million — up from 2 million — by July, 2022. TV White Spaces are unlicensed spectrum between television channels. The initiative launched 17 months ago.
The company will also expand the program to an additional nine states next year. It’s currently deployed in 16 states with commercial partnerships. The new states include California, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Smith said the FCC’s broadband map shows roughly 19 million people don’t have broadband connectivity in the U.S. Pew Research believes the number is closer to 113 million, he said. Microsoft’s own data finds about half the country, or 162 million, lack access to broadband, according to Smith. “This is now mattering more and more. Broadband has become ‘the electricity of the country’,” he said. “As a country, we must ask, are we going to go faster? It’s a problem we will not solve with cables alone.”
Smith called for federal government money to be earmarked for “incentives for TV white spaces devices” and “updating federal regulations governing the use of TV white spaces to free up this often unused and plentiful spectrum for rural broadband. If we only look at public money,” to close the gap, “it will take too long,” said Smith.
The company is encouraged by what it sees at the FCCs efforts to “clarify and ensure spectrum is available” for TVWS initiatives, he said. Those would include “clear rules for people to locate antennas in the right places and at the right power” level. Comments? Email us.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
December 5, 2018