The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Hamza Shaban and Brian Fung The As­so­ci­ated Press

Mi­crosoft is aim­ing to bring broad­band in­ter­net to mil­lions of ru­ral Amer­i­cans within the next five years through what is now un­used TV spec­trum, the com­pany an­nounced Tues­day. »

Mi­crosoft is aim­ing to bring broad­band In­ter­net to mil­lions of ru­ral Amer­i­cans within the next five years through what is now un­used TV spec­trum, the com­pany an­nounced Tues­day.

Mi­crosoft’s am­bi­tious plan, dubbed the Ru­ral Air­band Ini­tia­tive, will be­gin in 12 states, where the com­pany said it will in­vest in broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity along­side lo­cal tele­com ser­vices. One of the part­ner tele­com com­pa­nies is Cen­tu­ryLink, which is work­ing on a broad­band project in east­ern Washington state, said Mi­crosoft pres­i­dent and chief le­gal of­fi­cer Brad Smith in an in­ter­view.

Mi­crosoft said that it does not in­tend to en­ter the tele­com busi­ness it­self or di­rectly profit from the ini­tia­tive. In­stead, ev­ery dol­lar Mi­crosoft earns from rev­enue-sharing with tele­com op­er­a­tors — at least dur­ing the first five years — will be rein­vested to fund ad­di­tional broad­band cov­er­age, Smith said.

The strat­egy of turn­ing to un­used TV spec­trum, or white space, to ex­pand high­speed In­ter­net ac­cess is not new to Mi­crosoft, which has long sought to use va­cant airwaves to pro­vide cheap, wire­less broad­band. The com­pany said that it is turn­ing to the un­used TV spec­trum in­stead of fiberop­tic ca­bles or fixed wire­less tech­nol­ogy, such as 4G, be­cause it is much cheaper.

Mi­crosoft’s an­nounce­ment comes when other tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are devel­op­ing ways to de­liver In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity to tens of mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas in the U.S. and other un­der­served mar­kets. Ac­cord­ing to Mi­crosoft, there are 23.4 mil­lion ru­ral Amer­i­cans liv­ing with­out high-speed In­ter­net ac­cess. Google and Face­book have both sought to ex­plore the use of drones, lasers and satel­lite tech­nol­ogy to bring con­nec­tiv­ity to the devel­op­ing world. Face­book launched its In­ter­net.org ini­tia­tive to con­nect the nearly 5 bil­lion peo­ple around the world who do not have ac­cess to af­ford­able In­ter­net con­nec­tions.

Mi­crosoft’s plan would try to bring broad­band In­ter­net to 2 mil­lion peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas of the United States by July 2022.

But some ex­perts say that Mi­crosoft’s strat­egy may not be the best way to go about ex­pand­ing In­ter­net ac­cess.

“We think in­creas­ing ru­ral broad­band is a good idea but not the way Mi­crosoft is propos­ing it,” said Den­nis Whar­ton, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Broad­cast­ers. “They are mak­ing a lot of wild prom­ises. Their white-space idea has been around for over a decade and has proven to be a com­pete, ab­ject fail­ure.”

He also ar­gued that Mi­crosoft was seek­ing a free govern­ment hand­out to use the spec­trum rather than bidding for airwaves through the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s in­cen­tive auc­tion.

In his re­marks at a Washington event Tues­day, Smith ac­knowl­edged the push­back from broad­cast­ers. “We need to spend more time talk­ing to­gether,” he said.

Oth­ers praised the ini­tia­tive. Mi­crosoft’s plan rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of a decade of ad­vo­cacy, said Harold Feld, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the con­sumer group Pub­lic Knowl­edge.

Mi­crosoft said that the to­tal cost of elim­i­nat­ing the ru­ral broad­band gap us­ing TV white spa­ces and other tech­nolo­gies would fall be­tween $8 bil­lion and $12 bil­lion. But Smith de­clined to say how much money Mi­crosoft would be con­tribut­ing.

The com­pany plans to have pi­lot pro­grams up and run­ning within the next year in Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ari­zona, Kansas, Texas, Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan, Vir­ginia, Ge­or­gia, New York and Maine.

Mi­crosoft pres­i­dent Brad Smith talks about the project to bring broad­band in­ter­net ac­cess to the ru­ral U.S.

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