Microsoft Eyes TV White Space For Rural Broadband


In a blog post released this afternoon, Microsoft announced that it will be expanding its TV White Space (TVWS) broadband trials as a connectivity solution for rural America. Microsoft wants to eliminate the rural broadband coverage gap by 2024 through the use of TVWS.

Unlike fiber or wireless towers, the transmission capacity of television towers is significantly further. TVWS uses the data capacity of unused television channels to support internet access over long distances and geographically challenging landscapes.

From the blog post:

Specifically, TV white spaces will provide the best approach to reach the 80 percent of this underserved rural population that live in communities with a population density between two and 200 people per square mile. Satellite coverage should be used for areas with a population density of less than two people per square mile, and fixed wireless and limited fiber to the home should be used for communities with a density greater than 200 people per square mile.

One of the big benefits of this new approach is a dramatic reduction in the cost of bringing broadband rates to rural communities. By relying on this mixture of technologies, the total capital and initial operating cost to eliminate the rural broadband gap falls into a range of $8 to $12 billion. This is roughly 80 percent less than the cost of using fiber cables alone, and it’s over 50 percent cheaper than the cost of current fixed wireless technology like 4G.

Microsoft also says that it will be working with partners through its Rural Airband Initiative to expand rural broadband. “Our goal is not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects. We will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further,” writes Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft in the post. In addition, the company will support skills training and technology licensing to help rural Americans.

TVWS pilot projects are up and running in 12 states including Arizona; Georgia; Kansas; Maine; Michigan; New York; North and South Dakota; Texas; Virginia; Washington and Wisconsin.

CivSource first started reporting on US-based TVWS projects in 2013, when Carlson Wireless’ RuralConnect Broadband Solution was approved for a trial in California. Since then, tech giants and non-profits have rolled out several other test projects. In May, the Gigabit Libraries Network announced that it was expanding its TVWS project in partnership with San Jose State University’s School of Information (iSchool).

Microsoft released a white paper on the project alongside the blog post which is available here.


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