Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative now includes 23 projects in 15 states, and it’s got the support of a bipartisan group of governors of various states going on the record to support White Spaces technologies for access to broadband internet.
Microsoft representatives recently met with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s legal adviser, Umair Javed, to provide an update on the initiative, according to an ex parte filing. They also discussed how Microsoft’s white space experimental licenses helped point the way to effective use of the technology to serve rural communities.
Governors of North Dakota, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Vermont, Washington, Colorado, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Virginia signed a letter last year requesting that at least three white space channels in every U.S. market be reserved to better enable access to broadband internet. The governors of Idaho, Wisconsin, Hawaii and South Dakota have also submitted letters in support of TV White Spaces (TVWS) technology for rural areas.
TVWSs are unused blocks of broadcast spectrum located between the frequencies assigned to television stations. A TVWS can be used to create wireless broadband connections over long distances and in rugged terrain, with no line of sight.
Microsoft certainly has its detractors. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has been very vocal about its opinion of Microsoft’s plan, saying it’s a ploy to demand free, unlicensed spectrum—after not even bidding on broadcast TV airwaves in the FCC’s incentive auction that closed last year. NAB went as far as to call Microsoft's white space device development a well-documented, unmitigated failure.
The software giant continues to deploy TVWS projects. In April, the FCC granted an amended experimental license for Microsoft to use TVWS on school buses in Michigan. The company, in partnership with Allband Communications, an ISP serving rural northeast Michigan, said it wanted to provide connectivity for school buses along a rural bus route to evaluate new ways of using TVWS technology.
Microsoft deployed TVWS technology to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the storms last year. In the Puerto Rican city of Utuado, for example, TVWS was used to re-establish internet connectivity to a food distribution site, a health clinic and the University of Puerto Rico—sites that served as internet hotspots where people in the community could come and connect with their family and friends.