|In today’s “connected world” broadband connectivity is no longer simply a luxury for streaming videos on a tablet or downloading large files. It has become a critical connection to a better education and living. New cloud services are making broadband a necessity to start and grow a small business and take advantage of advances in agriculture, telemedicine and education. In short, broadband has become a vital part of 21st century infrastructure.|
Microsoft has spent several years working on its Rural Broadband Initiative. They have published a white paper outlining their best ideas for a new national rural broadband strategy. A summary of that white paper can be found here.
Today an astounding 34 million Americans still lack broadband access, which is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a 25 Mbps connection. The majority, approximatly two thirds of these, 23.4 million live in rural parts of our country. People who live in these rural communities are increasingly unable to take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities enjoyed by their urban neighbors.
High costs, the absence of new and alternative technologies, and market and regulatory conditions have all hampered efforts to expand coverage. But this is changing, thanks to recent advancements in technology, newly adopted standards, business model innovations and a growing demand for broadened cloud services.
A New Rural Broadband Approuch
The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious but achievable goal – to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022. We believe the nation can bring broadband coverage to rural America in this timeframe, based on a new strategic approach that combines private sector capital investments focused on expanding broadband coverage through new technologies, coupled with targeted and affordable public-sector support.
A Different Kind of Broadband
Microsoft’s call for a new strategy reflects in part their own experience as a company working around the world to make use of what’s called TV White Spaces spectrum. This is unused spectrum in the UHF television bands. This powerful bandwidth is in the 600 MHz frequency range and enables wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees. It’s why people could watch television programs in rural communities long before the advent of satellite television. Microsoft itself has considerable experience with this spectrum, having deployed 20 TV white spaces projects in 17 countries that have served 185,000 users.
The FCC Opens the Broadband Door of the TV White Spaces
In 2010 the FCC adopted rules enabling the use of TV white spaces in the United States. It has taken years of additional work to put in place the building blocks needed for the use of this spectrum to scale in an affordable way. Several companies including Microsoft have been working to perfect the hardware and software components of this technology. Further, developing industry-wide standards to foster ease of adoption and implementation have been a key focus of the project. The market is now poised to accelerate – give the right steps are taken.
Putting Heads Together
Boston Consulting Group worked with Microsoft on a directional study about the best way to meet the broadband coverage needs of rural America. The Groups findings lead to several important conclusions.
The best approach for the nation is to rely on a mixture of technologies for rural communities dependant on their population density;
Reduction in Broadband Implementation Costs
One of the big benefits of this new approach is a dramatic reduction in the cost of bringing broadband rates to rural communities. By relying on this mixture of technologies, the total capital and initial operating cost to eliminate the rural broadband gap falls into a range of $8 to $12 billion. This is roughly 80 percent less than the cost of using fiber cables alone, and it’s over 50 percent cheaper than the cost of current fixed wireless technology like 4G.
The key now is to stimulate private sector investment and combine this with targeted and efficient public-sector support. Today I outline our thinking on how best to do this.
Microsoft’s new Rural Airband Initiative
Microsoft is prepared to invest their own resources to help serve as a catalyst for broader market adoption of this new model. Microsoft is committed to three elements on a five-year basis:
A Vital Role for the Public Sector
Although the private sector can play the leading role in closing the rural broadband gap, the public sector also has a vital role to play.
Three related governmental measures are needed:
Looking forward: the importance of capital spending to expand broadband coverage
In urban America, we’ve thankfully become accustomed to ongoing capital investments to expand broadband capacity in areas that already have broadband coverage. But the time has come to extend this coverage to the rural areas that lack it entirely. We believe a new rural broadband strategy makes this feasible, and with Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative we’ll put our own resources and energy behind this effort. We can all innovate together, achieving what none of us can accomplish alone. And just as we look forward to sharing what we have learned, we look forward to applying over the next five years what we undoubtedly will learn from others.
As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors. To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation.
Exerpts, inclusions, and rewrites sourced from Microsoft News –