On Tuesday, RTO Wireless and Microsoft Corp. announced a new agreement to provide broadband internet access to more than 290,000 people living in unserved rural regions of New York and Maine. The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which aims to extend broadband access to 2 million people in unserved portions of rural America by July 4, 2022.
RTO Wireless bills itself specifically as a ‘rural technology operator’ and is focused on expanding broadband and technology access in rural areas.
With the partnership, RTO Wireless will explore using non-traditional broadband expansion methods including TV White Space Broadband, which uses unlicensed TV channels to transmit data over long distances. TVWS is gaining popularity in areas with high rural populations or challenging geographies. RTO said it will also use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), to deliver fixed and mobile wireless services to rural markets within the U.S., with initial rollouts across 16 counties in Maine and 20 counties in New York. CBRS makes broadband available to individuals over the shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz “innovation band”, the spectrum band was made available by the FCC in 2010.
Microsoft is a proponent of TVWS Broadband. As CivSource previously reported, the company announced last year it would increase the number of TVWS trials it supports nationwide. Microsoft has said that TVWS represents the best approach to reach underserved rural populations in the US with high-speed broadband access. Google is also supporting several TVWS projects.
The partnership between Microsoft and RTO Wireless will complement the already established and successful “broadband for all” initiative in New York. In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature established the $500 million New NY Broadband Program, the nation’s largest and most ambitious state investment in broadband expansion. Three rounds of grants using a reverse-auction method have expended this $500 million and provided support to projects that deliver high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved areas of the state.
Related: TV White Space Broadband