Microsoft's president hints at telemedicine in program tackling 'broadband gap'

Microsoft is broadening its goals for its Airband Initiative, an effort to bring affordable broadband coverage to the rural U.S., according to company president Brad Smith.

Microsoft launched the Airband Initiative in 2017, pledging to bring broadband internet access to 2 million Americans living in underserved rural communities by July 2022. However, due to the company's early success bringing internet access to various states in 2018, Mr. Smith has raised Microsoft's goal to encompass 3 million rural Americans.

In a Dec. 3 company blog post, Mr. Smith referred to the broadband gap between those living in rural and urban regions as an "urgent national problem that can and must be solved." An estimated 25 million Americans don't have access to broadband internet, 19 million of whom live in rural communities, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission.

"Every day the world is becoming more digital … but participating in this new era requires a high-speed broadband connection to the internet," Mr. Smith wrote. "Without a proper broadband connection, these communities can't start or run a modern business, access telemedicine, take an online class, digitally transform their farm, or research a school project online."

Mr. Smith argued improving internet access will require a mix of capital investment in innovative technologies from the private sector, and financial and regulatory support from the public sector.

"As we deepen our commitment to bringing broadband to rural America, we believe the country can raise its ambition as well," Mr. Smith wrote.

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