Mi­crosoft eyes buf­fer zone

Plan un­veiled as provider looks to ex­tend high-speed in­ter­net to ru­ral ar­eas

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY MATT O’BRIEN

Mi­crosoft wants to ex­tend broad­band ser­vices to ru­ral Amer­ica by us­ing the buf­fer zones sep­a­rat­ing in­di­vid­ual tele­vi­sion chan­nels in the airwaves.

Mi­crosoft plans to part­ner with ru­ral telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers in 12 states, from the Dako­tas and Ari­zona to a far east­ern edge of Maine. The strat­egy calls for a com­bi­na­tion of pri­vate and pub­lic in­vest­ments and reg­u­la­tory co-op­er­a­tion from the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to get about 2 mil­lion ru­ral Amer­i­cans connected to high­speed in­ter­net in the next five years.

Mi­crosoft’s ini­tia­tive, un­veiled Tues­day, comes as pol­icy makers strug­gle to ex­tend high­speed in­ter­net ser­vices to ru­ral ar­eas, which cable and phone com­pa­nies have of­ten shunned as cost pro­hib­i­tive.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Broad­cast­ers dis­missed the ini­tia­tive as the “height of ar­ro­gance” for Mi­crosoft to “de­mand free, un­li­censed spec­trum af­ter re­fus­ing to bid on TV airwaves” in a re­cent FCC auc­tion.

“Pol­i­cy­mak­ers should not be mis­led by slick Mi­crosoft prom­ises that threaten mil­lions of view­ers with loss of life­line broad­cast TV pro­gram­ming,” spokesman Den­nis Whar­ton said in a state­ment.

Although the buf­fer zones, known as white spa­ces, are cur­rently un­used, Whar­ton said they are im­por­tant for pre­vent­ing ad­ja­cent chan­nels from in­ter­fer­ing with each other.

Mi­crosoft is al­ready pi­lot­ing its idea in a sparsely pop­u­lated re­gion of south­ern Vir­ginia, where it’s pro­vid­ing $250,000 to the Mid-At­lantic Broad­band Com­mu­ni­ties Corp. The South Bos­ton, Vir­ginia-based telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions provider will con­trib­ute an­other $250,000 and use a $500,000 grant from Vir­ginia Tobacco Re­gion Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Com­mis­sion.

Mid-At­lantic Broad­band’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Ted Deriso, said Tues­day that he reached out to Mi­crosoft sev­eral years ago af­ter see­ing the Red­mond, Washington, com­pany de­ploy the tech­nol­ogy in other parts of the world.

“We said, ‘Wow, the prob­lems they’re try­ing to solve in ru­ral parts of Africa are the same we have in ru­ral Vir­ginia, on the tech­nol­ogy side,”’ Deriso said.

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