Connecting rural, suburban, and urban cores
Prepared by Zack Huhn:
Regional Smart Cities Initiatives launched with the core value that smart regions go beyond city limits, and start by laying down a foundational layer of connectivity for our urban, suburban, and rural areas. At IEEE's Advancing Internet Inclusion Summit this Spring I sat next to Microsoft's Melissa Sassi during the Digital Literacy Sub Committee Working Group Meeting. She mentioned to me this idea that we could use TV White Space to connect rural residents efficiently and effectively. Then this summer, Microsoft made their big roll out announcement for their TV White Space Pilot Projects (see below.)
The US Federal Communications Commission says 34 million Americans - 23.4 million of whom are in rural areas - lack a broadband net connection. Microsoft pledged to "eliminate" the problem in five years' time, using spectrum freed up by the move to digital TV. Experts said the plan could be costly and may cause interference.
Fernando Elizalde, a principal analyst at research company Gartner, said the plan was "ambitious" but "a little more sensible than Facebook's laser-powered drones or Google's balloons". "White space technology is there, but it is quite expensive and could cause interference," he said, adding that it would also require time for the FCC to assign channels for broadband. Currently, the modem needed in homes to support the technology can cost up to $1,000 (£778), although Microsoft has said it hopes to bring costs down to $200 within the year.
Currently, in many rural parts of America you have to rely on poor cable connections, radio-powered modems, or even satellite technology to get access to the internet. The speeds are usually not adequate enough to even stream Netflix episodes, let alone browse the web properly.
Unused TV white spaces operating in the 600 MHz frequency range will be repurposed for Microsoft's projects, and these frequencies have enough bandwidth to help deliver internet to thousands of homes. Microsoft is using it’s using previous experience deploying white spaces projects in 17 different countries to execute its ambitious plans. “At Microsoft, we’re prepared to invest our own resources to help serve as a catalyst for broader market adoption of this new model,” says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer. Microsoft is creating a Rural Airband Initiative that will invest in partnerships with telecommunications companies to create 12 projects in 12 states over the next 12 months.
Microsoft is aiming to connect 2 million people with its own investments, and eventually helping partners serve more than 20 million people with rural broadband connections. Smith is now calling on the US government to help with the effort. Microsoft wants the FCC to ensure that at least three channels below 700 MHz are kept unlicensed in all markets in the US, with additional TV white spaces for even smaller markets and rural areas. Microsoft also wants to see increased funding with infrastructure investments targeted towards broadband coverage in rural areas and improved data collection for rural broadband coverage.
“As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors,” explains Smith. “To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation. "
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