More than 19 million people living in rural America do not have access to broadband, a service as necessary as electricity in today’s digital economy. Microsoft President Brad Smith reiterated his call for a national strategy to close the rural broadband gap and highlighted that this is a problem the country can solve. The Microsoft Airband Initiative launched in July 2017 with the goal of working with partners to make broadband available to 2 million Americans in rural communities who lack access today and to help catalyze an ecosystem to connect millions more. After the success of the initiative’s first year, Smith announced that Microsoft is raising its goal for the program and increasing the company’s commitment. The program will reach 3 million Americans in rural communities by July 4, 2022, and is adding additional states, bringing the total to 25 states served by this time in 2019. The new states include CA, IN, MS, OK, and WV. The Microsoft Airband Initiative partners with internet service providers that are using a mix of technologies to close the rural broadband gap. This includes TV white spaces, which provides an economical wireless solution for rural areas.
Smith also called attention to the need for better broadband maps. “We can’t solve a problem that we don’t understand. There is strong evidence that the percentage of Americans without broadband access is much higher than the FCC’s numbers indicate.” Smith also wrote he was, “encouraged by the recent strides taken by the FCC toward collecting better data.”— Benton