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Microsoft Looks to Play in Rural Broadband

Wednesday, July 12, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Shari Wormwood
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(July 11, 2017) — Politico’s “Morning Tech” newsletter

Microsoft is rolling out a plan to expand broadband access in rural areas - and it involves capitalizing on TV white spaces spectrum - a move that broadcasters have been none too happy about. TV white spaces spectrum is spectrum between television stations that is currently unused.

The tech company argues that taking advantage of this unused spectrum would help spur the expansion of broadband to rural regions and cut costs while doing so. "A technology model that uses a combination of the TV white spaces spectrum, fixed wireless and satellite coverage can reduce the initial capital and operating costs by roughly 80 percent compared to the cost of using fiber cables alone and by approximately 50 percent compared to the cost of current fixed wireless technology." Microsoft says in a white paper out today.

Using this method, Microsoft has a goal of establishing broadband connectivity for two million people in rural areas by 2022. It intends to work with telecom companies to have projects off the ground in 12 states within the next year, plans to set up digital skills training programs in these regions and aims to share patents and source code that it has for using TV white spaces spectrum. Microsoft President Brad Smith is due to speak about the company's strategy later today at a Media Institute event.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters published a scathing takedown of Microsoft's approach to white spaces spectrum last week . To make its plan work, Microsoft is asking the FCC to ensure that three channels in the 600 MHz band are available for wireless use across the country. The NAB post argues that reserving this spectrum for Microsoft's purposes is one way for the tech company to access the spectrum it needs without having to pay the necessary fees like everybody else. "Microsoft is trying to convince the commission to give Microsoft a backdoor frequency allocation with exclusive access to that spectrum for free, and on better terms than winning auction bidders received," NAB's Patrick McFadden writes.

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