Microsoft expands rural broadband initiative with new partnership

Microsoft has added another partner to its Airband Initiative, an ongoing effort to bring affordable internet access to Americans living in rural parts of the U.S.

Microsoft unveiled its partnership with RTO Wireless, a rural technology operator, July 24. Together, the two companies plan to deliver broadband internet access to nearly 300,000 people living in rural regions of New York and Maine. Many of these communities don't have the established infrastructure to connect residents with high-quality broadband services.

RTO Wireless uses emerging techniques — such as internet solutions that leverage TV white spaces, the unused spectrum between TV stations — to deliver fixed and mobile wireless services to rural regions of the U.S. The partnership's initial rollout will comprise 20 counties in New York and 16 counties in Maine.

"Without reliable internet access, many people living in rural America are unable to take advantage of the same opportunities as their urban neighbors," said Shelley McKinley, head of technology and corporate responsibility at Microsoft.

In a July 2017 report, the Airband Initiative noted broadband has played a growing role across most industries in recent years. In healthcare, for example, hospitals have begun turning to telemedicine — or healthcare services delivered via video conferencing and other digital services — to address physician shortages in rural areas.

In New York, Microsoft's Airband Initiative — which pledges to extend broadband coverage to 2 million people in unserved regions of rural America by 2022 — complements the state's established "broadband for all" program. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, D, and the state legislature established the $500 million program in 2015 to expand high-speed internet access across the state.

"Broadband internet access unlocks pathways to better education, business growth, health and so much more," said U.S. Representative Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y. "Microsoft and RTO Wireless' new agreement to bring broadband to underserved rural regions of New York … ensures our community can take advantage of the opportunities offered by today's digital economy."

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