What you need to know

  • Microsoft and Nextlink Internet have partnered to improve and deliver broadband access to rural areas.
  • The partnership will improve internet access in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
  • The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative.

Microsoft and Nextlink Internet announced a new partnership that could help around one million people in rural areas improve their internet connectivity. The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative which has a goal of "extending broadband access to over 3 million unserved people in rural America by July 2022" as shared in the Microsoft News post announcing the new partnership. The partnership will help improve internet connectivity to people in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The news post points out that 21 million Americans lack broadband access, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Additionally, Microsoft Data discovered that 162 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speeds. The vast majority of people that lack internet access live in rural areas. The Microsoft Airband Initiative aims to bring internet access to more people by utilizing various technologies. One technology leveraged is TV white space. These unused TV frequencies can be used to deliver internet access in areas that don't have the infrastructure needed for traditional broadband.

Shelly McKinley, Vice President of Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft stated

It's time to deliver on the connectivity promises that have been made to people across the country, and this partnership will help do that for many who have been left behind and unserved in the heartland of America. In the past two years with our Airband Initiative, we've seen that progress is possible — particularly when the public and private sectors come together. Partnerships with regional ISPs like Nextlink that have the desire and wherewithal to provide internet connectivity are a critical part of closing the broadband gap and helping families, children, farmers, businesses and whole communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century.

Rollouts to improve internet access are planned through 2024 in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois by Nextlink and Nextlink will continue deployments in Texas and Oklahoma. The CEO of Nextlink, Bill Baker, stated

Nextlink is tremendously excited about the opportunity to join forces with Microsoft. This agreement will accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access to underserved areas that are desperate for this critical service. This in turn will make those areas more attractive for employers who require high-speed broadband to operate. By itself, this project is going to generate hundreds of full-time, long-term jobs in rural communities as Nextlink builds out and services the required networks. The overall impact to rural communities in terms of job creation and increased viability for all employers is tremendous.

Microsoft has been involved in similar projects as part of the AirBand Initiative, including bringing broadband to tribal lands in rural Montana and Washington. Microsoft has also kicked off 20 TV whitespace projects in 17 countries.

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