Microsoft Wants to Get Rural America Online Using TV Signals
The goal is to get two million rural Americans connected from 12 different states over the next five years using white space broadband.
The quality and speed of your internet connection relies entirely on the infrastructure available to Internet Service Providers covering your local area. Typically, those in rural locations have very little choice, ancient infrastructure and therefore terrible internet. Microsoft aims to fix that using TV signals.
More specifically, Microsoft is attempting to tap the unused channels found between TV broadcasts and known as white spaces. Initially the intention is to use them to pipe broadband to 12 different states and get two million rural Americans enjoying high-speed Internet access over the next five years.
According to The New York Times there's over 24 million Americans living in rural areas without access to the internet. All of them are potential customers and white space broadband is a way of reaching them.
White space broadband is best thought of just like supercharged Wi-Fi, using low-power TV channels to travel much greater distances than the Wi-Fi we are all used to. It also offers the benefit of being better than cellular signals in terms of power and can therefore offer better coverage.
There are a couple of big hurdles for Microsoft to overcome, though. The first is regulation and convincing both state and federal regulators to allow white spaces to be used for broadband. Microsoft will face opposition from TV broadcasters who believe using white space interferes with their channels.
The second is equipment, or a lack of it. Microsoft needs hardware manufacturers to produce the required hardware to support white space broadband and to do so cheaply. Currently such devices cost over $1,000 each, but Microsoft believes it can get that figure below $200. We can assume that's sub-$200 for a white space wireless router for each home.
Whether white space broadband becomes a viable option or not is unknown. If Microsoft can convince regulators to embrace it then the cheaper hardware will follow. Ultimately Microsoft wants to be the company that makes it happen, but will leave the running of such services to local ISPs. I'm sure rural Americans don't care who does what as long as they can get online for a fair price.
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