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The path to prosperity through access to high-speed internet

Last year, the world reached a major modern milestone – as of 2018, half of the world’s population is online with some form of internet connection. The bad news is that, despite this progress, this status quo still puts billions of people on the wrong side of the digital divide. Leaving half the world without access to the electricity of today’s age – internet access, and increasingly at broadband speeds – means that existing inequalities, poverty and insecurity will persist, worsen and become increasingly difficult to address.

Efforts to accelerate internet access globally, with a focus on developing nations, are not new. But it’s clear that the world needs a new approach to this work. The UN State of Broadband Report found that broadband adoption has slowed, and progress is especially elusive in low-income countries and rural areas across the globe. Most of the connected population relies on low speed, basic cellular services and only 14.1% of the global population has an in-home internet subscription.

That is why Microsoft is reaffirming our commitment to global connectivity today at the Devex Conference on International Finance. Through the new international track of the Airband Initiative, our goal is to extend internet access to 40 million unserved and underserved people around the globe by July 2022. We’ll concentrate our efforts to areas with significant underserved populations – initially, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa – that also have regulatory interest in solving connectivity issues. Extending internet access to 40 million people around the world in the span of three years is a big task – but it’s informed by our ongoing work in connectivity, experience with partners and engagement from development finance institutions.

In the past, we’ve done this work on a project-by-project basis spanning across Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the U.S., we formalized our connectivity work in 2017 by launching the Airband Initiative, with the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 3 million people in rural America by July 2022, and today marks the formalization of the international work within the Initiative.

How the program will work

Like our work in the U.S., our goal is to empower local partners who know their communities’ geographies and needs to solve their community’s last mile connectivity challenges. Experience has taught us that diverse challenges require diverse solutions. What works in one part of South Africa may not be a fit for Ghana. A wireless technology or a business model that is suitable for connecting customers in one location might not be suitable for connecting customers in another location. Bringing broadband access to the world’s unserved communities will require much greater reliance on innovative technologies, regulatory approaches and business models. Our experience has shown us that a multi-stakeholder approach is needed to close the connectivity gap. While we might go faster alone, we go much farther together. For this reason, these programs seek to combine our and our partners’ expertise and assets.

Airband International will rely on a four-part approach:

  • Removing regulatory obstacles to TV White Space (TVWS) and other technologies that help our partners extend their networks quickly in unserved, predominantly rural, areas.
  • Partnering with local internet service providers (ISPs) to provide affordable, reliable internet services.
  • Enabling rural digital transformation in newly connected areas, with a focus on supporting agriculture, education, rural entrepreneurship and telemedicine, as well as off-grid energy sources where necessary in order to improve rural productivity and livelihood.
  • Building a larger ecosystem of support, with a focus on stimulating international financing, to scale connectivity projects beyond our own direct investments.

Early signs of success

We know that new technologies like TVWS can be incredibly useful in meeting rural connectivity needs at an affordable price. However, regulatory frameworks in many parts of the world have not kept pace with innovation. We’ve seen great progress from engagements to date. In Colombia, as we started our work to create a long-term solution for the Meta region, we sat down with the national spectrum regulator to understand the region’s needs, existing regulations and to determine any gaps. In Ghana, we partnered with government officials to ensure strong regulations were in place to deploy long-term solutions such as TVWS.

School children sitting and holding tablets
In Colombia, we worked with regulators to create a framework that will now allow us to extend access to 6 million people throughout the country. Photo credit: Colombian Ministry of ICT

Once these hurdles are removed, partners around the world are poised to move quickly and deliver big results. BLUETOWN is a connectivity and digital content service provider committed to making broadband connectivity more accessible. With regulations in Ghana now permitting access to the TVWS, BLUETOWN is on a path to bring affordable broadband access to over 800,000 people living in the rural eastern part of Ghana who were previously underserved.

These large-scale gains in connectivity are not limited to smaller countries, nor does it stop at connectivity alone. In Colombia, with coffee company Lavazza, ALO partners, Makaia and Microsoft’s support, a small project connected two schools and five farms to broadband via TVWS technology – perfect technology for the region’s jungled and mountainous terrain. It has continued to grow, and now includes an agreement between Lavazza, Microsoft and the National Coffee Growers Association of Colombia that will result in the rural digital transformation for half a million small coffee farmers in the region. Additionally, Airband has co-invested with ISPs in Colombia to extend broadband access to 6 million rural Colombians – that’s 12% of Colombia’s total population.

This work was accelerated by a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Additional financing is critical to bring these from small projects to scale. The partners invited IDB to join, and this support has helped create results and a blueprint that can be showcased in other countries of the region to accelerate this work.

Looking forward

To close the digital divide once and for all, we need to act to connect the world quickly. This will require the engagement of companies like Microsoft, but importantly, the financial support of international financing organizations around the world. Internet connectivity and technology infrastructure has made up a very small percentage of development bank funding historically, and that will need to change to bring connectivity to the more than three billion people around the globe who lack access to some form of internet connection. To help tackle these challenges, international financing organizations also need to be willing to make bets on local entrepreneurs deploying innovative new technologies and business models better suited to reaching the remaining unconnected communities.

Through our work and our engagement, we hope to not just connect people, but provide a blueprint for other public and private sector entities to think about connectivity as a core part of their investments in health, gender equity, water, energy or any other core area of sustainable development.

There are too many things that divide us in the world today. The internet can bring us closer together, foster new understandings and connections and remove structural barriers to opportunity and equality. Airband International is focused on doing just that, and we hope that you’ll add your support to these efforts as we move forward.

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Nextlink Internet and Microsoft closing broadband gap in central US

The agreement could bring broadband access to benefit more than 9 million people, including approximately 1 million in unserved rural areas

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 18, 2019 — On Wednesday, Nextlink Internet and Microsoft Corp. announced a partnership that will help close the broadband gap in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, bringing high-speed internet to hundreds of rural communities. The agreement will further enable Nextlink to substantially expand their coverage areas and is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which is focused on addressing this national crisis, with the goal of extending broadband access to over 3 million unserved people in rural America by July 2022.

Lack of broadband connectivity is a pervasive national issue, and particularly acute in rural areas of the country. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that more than 21 million Americans lack broadband access, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas that continue to lag the national rate of broadband usage. The problem is almost certainly larger than that, though, as other studies and data sources, including Microsoft data, have found that 162 million people across the United States are not using the internet at broadband speeds, including approximately 29 million people across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

“It’s time to deliver on the connectivity promises that have been made to people across the country, and this partnership will help do that for many who have been left behind and unserved in the heartland of America,” said Shelley McKinley, vice president, Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft. “In the past two years with our Airband Initiative, we’ve seen that progress is possible — particularly when the public and private sectors come together. Partnerships with regional ISPs like Nextlink that have the desire and wherewithal to provide internet connectivity are a critical part of closing the broadband gap and helping families, children, farmers, businesses and whole communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century.”

Nextlink will deploy a variety of broadband connectivity technologies to bring these areas under coverage, including wireless technologies leveraging TV white spaces (e.g., unused TV frequencies) in select markets. Nextlink will continue its deployments in Texas and Oklahoma and immediately begin deployment efforts in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, with rollouts planned through 2024.

Nextlink CEO Bill Baker noted, “Nextlink is tremendously excited about the opportunity to join forces with Microsoft. This agreement will accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access to underserved areas that are desperate for this critical service. This in turn will make those areas more attractive for employers who require high-speed broadband to operate. By itself, this project is going to generate hundreds of full-time, long-term jobs in rural communities as Nextlink builds out and services the required networks. The overall impact to rural communities in terms of job creation and increased viability for all employers is tremendous.”

“This partnership will enable the coming of precision agriculture, IoT, digital healthcare, access to higher education and overall economic growth,” said Ted Osborn, Nextlink SVP of Strategy & Regulatory Affairs. “Our experience tells us that advanced broadband access and community support can make these promises a reality in relatively short order.”

Improved connectivity will bolster economic, educational and telehealth opportunities for everyone in the region, and could be particularly impactful for farmers. Together, the states covered in part by this deal — Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas — account for more than $120 billion in annual agricultural value, or 29% of the agricultural output of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With broadband access, farmers can gain better access to markets and take advantage of advancements in precision agriculture, enabling them to better monitor crops and increase their yields, which can translate into significant economic returns. The USDA estimates widespread use of connected technologies for agricultural production has the potential to unlock over $47 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.

The partnership builds on Microsoft and Nextlink’s efforts to close the digital divide. Nextlink is familiar with the needs of rural communities and was awarded federal Connect America Fund funding to expand broadband access to unserved rural communities. The companies will also work together to ensure that, once connectivity is available in these regions, people will receive the digital skills training to help them take advantage of the economic and social benefits that come with broadband access.

About Nextlink Internet  

Nextlink Internet, LLC is a residential and commercial internet access and phone services provider based in Hudson Oaks, Texas. The company is a leading provider of broadband services to rural school districts and municipalities. Since 2013, the company has organically attracted over 36,000 broadband subscribers using solely private capital and has managed industry-leading operating metrics. Nextlink optimizes its IP-based optical-fiber and fixed wireless network with an unrelenting commitment to customer service to achieve high customer satisfaction.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Dale Curtis for Nextlink Internet, dale@dalecurtiscommunications.com, (202) 246-5659

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

 

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Watch Communications and Microsoft announce partnership to bring broadband internet to Indiana, Ohio and Illinois

Deployment of technologies, including TV white spaces, is expected to cover more than four million people in the region, including 815,000 people in rural areas currently without access to broadband

REDMOND, Wash. — July 9, 2019 — On Tuesday, Watch Communications and Microsoft Corp. announced an agreement aimed at closing the broadband gap, and the rural digital divide in particular, in the states of Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which is focused on extending broadband access to three million people in rural America by July 2022.

The FCC reports that more than 21 million Americans lack broadband access. According to Microsoft data, 162 million people across the United States are not using the internet at broadband speeds, including approximately 17 million people in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Watch Communications will deploy a variety of broadband connectivity technologies to bring these areas under coverage, with an emphasis on wireless technologies leveraging TV white spaces (e.g., unused TV frequencies) in lower population density or terrain-challenged areas to achieve improved coverage. The areas expected to benefit include 50 counties in Indiana, 22 counties in Illinois, and most counties in Ohio.

“Every person deserves the same opportunity. But too often and in too many places, these opportunities are limited by where people live and their access to reliable and affordable broadband access,” said Shelley McKinley, general manager, Technology and Corporate Responsibility, Microsoft. “Microsoft is working across the country to close this gap. We’re partnering with Watch Communications to improve broadband access in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio and build on the incredible work being done by state and local leaders on this issue on behalf of their citizens.”

“Public-private partnerships, collaboration and understanding local initiatives are key to enabling connectivity success. Providing rural broadband can be difficult, so working as a team to solve the digital divide requires partners. We are excited to partner with Microsoft on this initiative,” said Greg Jarman, chief operating officer, Watch Communications.

Improved connectivity will bolster economic, educational and telehealth opportunities for everyone in the region, and could be particularly impactful for this region’s farmers. Together, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio account for more than $38.5 billion in agricultural value, with all three ranking in the top 16 states by agricultural output, according to the USDA. With broadband access, farmers can take advantage of advanced technologies such as precision agriculture which can help better monitor crops and increase yields.

In addition, Watch Communications and Microsoft will work together to ensure that once connectivity is available, people know how to use it and can get the training needed to fully participate in the digital economy, access educational opportunities and access telemedicine.

***

State by State View

Indiana

This is Microsoft’s first Airband Initiative deployment in Indiana. The need for improved connectivity is acute — the FCC broadband mapping report shows that more than 673,000 people in Indiana do not have access to broadband, and Microsoft data suggests that more than 4.3 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds in the state. The partnership between Watch Communications and Microsoft is expected to cover more than 1 million Hoosiers, more than 440,000 of whom are people in rural areas that are currently unserved.

Watch Communications was a recent award winner of funds from the FCC to extend broadband services in Indiana. As a result, Watch Communications has been working with Indiana counties to develop the deployment approach that best meets the needs of the local communities. In addition to broadband, Watch Communications has been working to use its network to design an IoT network to serve Indiana businesses.

This also builds on Microsoft’s presence in Indiana. Last October, Microsoft and the Markle Foundation announced the launch of Skillful Indiana, focused on bringing investment, training, tools, and innovative methods to support workforce development in the state. In addition, the Hope FFA chapter in Indiana was recently awarded Microsoft FarmBeats Student Kits, which will help FFA students develop essential digital skills for precision agriculture and IoT technologies.

Ohio

Watch Communications was a recent award winner of funds from the FCC to extend broadband services in Ohio. As a result, Watch Communications has been working with Ohio counties to develop the deployment approach that best meets the needs of the local communities.

“You can’t be a part of the modern economy or education system without access to high-speed internet, and we are taking steps in Ohio to extend broadband to those who are underserved across the state,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted. “Thank you to Microsoft for being among the leaders on this and for being willing to consider innovative solutions to help extend opportunity to people in Ohio who need it.”

This is Microsoft’s second Airband Initiative deployment in Ohio, following an August 2018 agreement between Microsoft and Agile Networks. The need for improved connectivity is acute — the FCC broadband mapping report shows that more than 621,000 people in Ohio do not have access to broadband, while Microsoft data suggests that more than 6.9 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds in the state. The partnership between Watch Communications and Microsoft is expected to cover approximately 2.5 million people, more than 288,000 of whom are people in rural areas that are currently unserved.

This also builds on Microsoft’s presence in Ohio. Microsoft’s TEALS program is helping to deliver computer science education to Ohio students. In addition, the Arcadia FFA chapter and Triad-OHP FFA chapter in Ohio were recently awarded Microsoft FarmBeats Student Kits, which will help FFA students develop essential digital skills for precision agriculture and IoT technologies.

Illinois

This is Microsoft’s second Airband Initiative deployment in Illinois, the first being a September 2018 agreement between Microsoft and Network Business Systems to bring broadband internet to people in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota. The need for improved connectivity is acute — the FCC broadband mapping report shows that more than 680,000 people in Illinois do not have access to broadband, while Microsoft data suggests that more than 6.6 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds in the state. The partnership between Watch Communications and Microsoft is expected to cover more than 275,000 people, more than 80,000 of whom are people in rural areas that are currently unserved.

About Watch Communications

Founded in 1992, Watch Communications is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) using a combination of fixed wireless and fiber technologies to serve residential and business customers throughout Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Watch Communications began as a wireless cable TV provider and expanded service offerings in 1998 to include Internet. Since its creation, Watch Communications has focused on unserved and underserved small and rural markets.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Lindsey Gardner, Watch Communications Media Requests, (419) 999-2824, media@watchcomm.net

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

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Microsoft’s Airband Grant Fund invests in 8 start-ups delivering broadband to rural communities around the world

Today, internet access is as essential as electricity. It empowers entrepreneurs to start and grow small businesses, farmers to implement precision agriculture, doctors to improve community health and students to do better in school. But almost half the world’s population is still not online, often because they live in underserved areas, and therefore miss out on opportunities to take advantage of and become part of the digital economy. As a global technology company, we believe we have a responsibility and a great opportunity to help close this gap.

That’s why we’re excited to announce the eight early-stage companies selected for our third annual Airband Grant Fund. These start-ups are overcoming barriers to provide affordable internet access to unconnected and underserved communities in the U.S., Africa and Asia using TV white spaces (TVWS) and other promising last-mile access technologies. Our grant fund will provide financing, technology, mentorship, networking opportunities and other support to help scale these start-ups’ innovative new technologies, services and business models. The Airband Grant Fund is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, launched last year to extend broadband access across the United States and, ultimately, connectivity around the globe.

We are excited to partner with this year’s cohort of Airband grantees, which include:

These companies are improving life for some of the most underserved communities here in the U.S. and around the world. For example, approximately 35 percent of people living on tribal lands in the U.S. lack broadband. Tribal Digital Village wants to change that. With support from our Airband Grant Fund, they will use TVWS – vacant broadcast spectrum that enables internet connections in challenging rural terrain – and other technologies to deploy broadband to tribal homes on 20 isolated reservations in Southern California. “We realized that without access to the internet, tribal students weren’t going to have access to advanced opportunities that other kids had,” said Matt Rantanen, director of technology for Tribal Digital Village. “But there was no infrastructure on tribal land and no telecommunications companies wanted to work with us to build it out. So we had to build it ourselves.”

ColdHubs is another organization finding innovative ways to tackle the broadband access challenge. In Owerri, Nigeria, ColdHubs is transforming their refrigerated crop storage rooms into Wi-Fi hot spots using TVWS technology. The company aims to empower smallholder farmers with the ability to earn better livelihoods. Their solar-powered crop storage facilities help reduce food spoilage, which causes 470 million smallholder farmers to lose 25 percent of their annual income. Farmers who use ColdHubs can extend the freshness of their fruits and vegetables from two to about 21 days, reducing post-harvest loss by 80 percent. By turning these facilities into Wi-Fi “Farm Connect Centers,” ColdHubs will enable farmers to get online and access agricultural training, resources to improve crop yields and marketing and digital skills training.

Whether in the U.S. or around the world, we believe in nurturing innovative solutions by supporting local companies and entrepreneurs. We are eager to work in close partnership with these Airband Grant Fund recipients over the next year to refine and expand the reach of their solutions. And in the coming months, we’ll have more to share on the exciting progress we’re making on our Airband Initiative, and our goal to deliver broadband to 2 million rural Americans by 2022, and to extend connectivity to underserved communities around the world. Learn more about the Airband Grant Fund recipients here.

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