…In the summer of 2017, we launched the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which brings broadband connectivity to people living in underserved rural areas. To eliminate the rural broadband gap, we bring together private–sector capital investment in new technologies and rural broadband deployments with public–sector financial and regulatory support. We set an ambitious goal: to provide access to broadband to three million people in unserved rural areas of the United States by July 4, 2022. At two and a half years since launch, we are at the halfway point of the time we gave ourselves to meet this goal and we feel good about the steady progress we’ve made and how much we have learned. But one thing we have learned is that the problem is even bigger than we imagined.
The broadband gap is wide but solvable
Beth’s horse-borne approach to connectivity may be unique, but the problem is not: According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 broadband report, more than 21 million people in America, nearly 17 million of whom live in rural communities, don’t have access to broadband.
Steady progress to close the broadband gap
There’s good news about the cost of connectivity. The price of TV white spaces devices (TVWS) – a new connectivity technology that’s particularly useful in rural areas where laying cable simply isn’t an option – continues to drop. In the last year, the cost of customer equipment has plummeted by 50%, all while achievable speeds have increased tenfold.
What comes after connectivity?
As we’ve connected communities across the country, we’ve kept asking ourselves a central, key question: What comes after connectivity?
Broadband connections aren’t a panacea for all that ails rural America. Simply plugging in an ethernet cable doesn’t create jobs, increase farmers’ yields or provide a veteran with healthcare. Rural communities need resources beyond infrastructure to rebuild and lift themselves up. That’s why much of our work goes well beyond connectivity.
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