Connecting Rural America Microsoft Pushes to End Broadband Gap in Rural Areas

OMAHA (DTN) -- Tech giant Microsoft is working to eliminate the broadband gap in rural areas, but the company needs rural residents' help to accomplish that goal, a company executive said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, Shelley McKinley, Microsoft general manager of technology and corporate responsibility, said high-speed internet in rural areas is now a necessity of life, and the push to expand access is similar to providing electricity to rural areas in the 20th century.

RURAL AIRBAND INITIATIVE

During the forum Wednesday, McKinley detailed how Microsoft was aiming to improve rural connectivity through a multi-focused plan called the Rural Airband Initiative.

Roughly 25 million people in the country don't have access to broadband internet, with about 19 million of those people living in rural areas, she said. The plan, which was started in July 2017, calls for connecting 2 million people to the internet in five years and closing the broadband availability gap by July 4, 2022.

"It is a hybrid approach to help cover every rural resident," McKinley said.

While the private sector can play a leading role in closing the rural broadband gap, the public sector also needs to play a part, she said. Among the methods Microsoft wants to utilize to get high-speed internet out to rural areas is to use the TV white spaces spectrum, which is administrated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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