Bringing Broadband to Rural Areas in Microsoft Style
With the ways that Netflix, Hulu, Sling and yes, good old cable, have changed the way that we all watch TV, there are tons of unused TV signals with nothing better to do. Well, Microsoft wants to change that. Microsoft wants to use those lonely TV signals to provide rural broadband service in the future. However, the TV stations have an issue with this.
Of course, it’s not the first time that a group or individual has tried to put out a plan to use that “white space”. There have been a ton of ideas, good ones at that, since the 2000s. This time around though, it’s Microsoft with the idea and the money to back it up.
The best part is, the Federal Communications Commission already approved the concept of letting white-space advocates and companies put their ideas to use. So how does this idea work? Let’s take a look at what was already in the works:
Tv and Internet Together Forever
In 2002, the FCC began to take a look at the uses of TV airwaves for other things. Broadcast stations don’t use all of their available TV airwaves as it is. When the recent FCC auctions expanded that spectrum, it means a ton of empty space that is sitting there – space that reaches really long distances. So, the FCC thought, why not let internet providers use those white spaces?
If they are allowed to use these spaces for internet services, it would mean that millions of rural Americans can get download speeds of 10 mbps or faster if they are 10 miles or less from a transmitter. It also means that this can be done for half the cost of LTE wireless.
However, those white spaces aren’t open in a uniform way throughout the US. So, the FCC can’t simply give one whole block of the airwaves to internet providers. Instead, it’s created a database for all of the empty space so that white space devices can verify that they are only using empty air.
The testing for internet through the empty airwaves began over a decade ago both in the US and around the world. Now Microsoft wants to take the idea and use of these dead spaces nationwide. On July 11, 2017, president Brad Smith of Microsoft outlined their July 10, 2017, report about how the company wants to use the white spaces to deliver broadband service to 80% of the 20+ million Americans that cannot currently get it. The company hopes to do this by July 4, 2022.
In order for their plan to work, the company has to invest in providers that offer white space internet. They will also have to give free licensing of almost 40 US Patents that they hold over the technology. Plus, they will need to boost their support for digital skill training from other companies like the National 4-H Council.
While there are about 23.4 millions Americans who cannot get any type of fast internet currently in rural areas, the 20% that will not be covered by this plan will have other options. Microsoft believes that satellite options would be the best for them. For those currently in large cities or areas with larger populations, they can already benefit from fiber-optics and fixed-wireless services.
Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…
They are already trying this concept out in southern Virginia and seeing success. The testing, which is being done in Halifax and Charlotte counties, has already brought broadband to hundreds of households that are getting speeds faster than DSL. However, even with the faster speeds, the speeds are still below the normal cable internet speeds. Tad Deriso of Mid-Atlantic Broadband says that most customers in this area have just been able to get download speeds of 5 mbps or less until now. He said that with more tweaks, they should be able to get their speeds from 10 up to 15 or possibly 25 mbps.
The program is expanding and planning to add more areas quickly. Deriso stated that so far, things have been easy and there haven’t been any problems with the broadcast stations.
Microsoft Want One More Thing
Of course, Microsoft wants the FCC to make one more additional white space channel open in large markets. The NAB, National Association of Broadcasters, don’t like this one bit and has been asking why Microsoft didn’t bid on this in the most recent FCC auction.
No matter what Microsoft is able to pull off with the larger markets, it looks as though they are already on the right track to bring broadband to millions of customers around the US. As a rural resident myself, I would love to see faster speeds in my area. I currently live less than 15 miles from a large internet company hub, yet cannot get bonded lines or speeds that exceed 5 mbps until the company does a fiber upgrade in the next year. For millions of us out here in the boonies, we’re cheering Microsoft for their efforts to get faster speeds for us.