For the past 2 years Microsoft’s Airband initiative has been providing internet access to rural households in the U.S. and is now expanding internationally by focusing on Africa and Latin America. The program is on track to connect more than 3 million people across the U.S. by July 2022, thanks to unused TV White Space. This could finally be the plug to get billions of people online in developing countries that don’t have access to any sort of internet connectivity.
The Breakdown You Need to Know: CultureBanx noted that approximately half the world’s population is now connected to the internet, though the majority of them reside in developed nations. As part of Microsoft’s international Airband efforts, they plan to connect 40 million people to the internet by 2022. The company is pushing regulators abroad for access to their TV White Space, which are wireless frequencies that can be repurposed to deliver internet access across a wide area of remote communities in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our experience has shown us that a multi-stakeholder approach is needed to close the connectivity gap,” the company wrote in a blog post on its site.
Microsoft noted that without internet access, especially at broadband speeds in these countries means that “existing inequalities, poverty and insecurity will persist, worsen and become increasingly difficult to address.” They have had some early success in countries like Ghana, where they worked to deregulate TV White Space technology so that one broadband provider could offer its services to nearly 800,000 people.
Beyond International ISPs: It’s not just developing countries that are in need of these types of innovative internet solutions. In high poverty rate cities like Flint, MI and Trenton, NJ up to 60% of households do not have access to wired broadband service.
In the mostly black city of Detroit nearly 40% of households have no home internet service and more than 15% only access the internet through their mobile device. Many children living in these communities are only able to access the internet while at school or when they’re in reach of public wifi, if they have a capable device.
Since the digital revolution doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, internet access has to be prioritized as an essential component of public infrastructure. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google are helping to stymie the digital divide of today, that could become the international economic and employment divide of tomorrow. Ultimately, every new person they are able to connect to the internet has the possibility to turn into a paying customer.