Microsoft on Tuesday called for a national strategy that eliminates the rural broadband gap over the next five years.
The company is calling for a combination of private and public investments to get about 2 million rural Americans online. The "the Rural Airband Initiative" would use the so-called white-spaces spectrum -- the unused frequencies between TV channels. Microsoft says that the powerful bandwidth could allow wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees. However, Microsoft will face some hurdles, including opposition from broadcasters reluctant to surrender airwaves. On Tuesday, a broadcasting group called Microsoft's proposal "the height of arrogance."
The company plans to partner with telecommunications companies that serve rural counties in 12 states.
Using white-spaces spectrum is 80 percent cheaper than a fiber connection and half the price of wireless, according to Microsoft. A program that uses white-spaces technology for 80 percent of rural America, with satellite and wireless for the rest, could end the broadband gap at a cost of $10 billion, the company said. That could be key because President Donald Trump has pledged to expand service to rural areas with a budget some policy wonks say isn't sufficient to reach all the places in the U.S. that need it.
For the system to work, Microsoft says the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. agency that regulates airwaves, needs to allow broader use of white-space spectrum around the nation. The company is asking for three channels.
Right now, 23.4 million Americans in rural areas can't get the fast internet access increasingly needed for tasks like homework, job applications, online medical treatment and remote repairs for farming equipment.