Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has already promised to introduce legislation charging the FCC to craft new “strong broadband” rules, an action that would allow the FCC to relook at the issue.
Recently, Microsoft president Brad Smith presented the company’s plan to bridge the “Rural Broadband Gap.”
It’s kind of a big deal. As big a deal as when kids raised in the country didn’t get the same education as town kids. You might think that is a story from long ago, but you’d be wrong. It’s a present-day problem. Rural America is lagging behind the world in broadband access, and that’s unacceptable.
More than 23.4 million Americans don’t have access to broadband simply because they live in rural areas. Broadband is practically a necessity for life in this century. It provides access to everything from health care to agriculture and brings education right into your home.
Broadband is not about playing Minecraft. Broadband is access to the world. It allows a grandmother to see the face of her grandchild halfway around the globe and hear about whatever happened that day.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) found that the number of rural children living in poverty is rising despite the fact that the U.S. economy as a whole has seen income and employment gains.
There are more than 5 million households with school-age children that don’t have Internet.
It’s no surprise when we see that 85 percent of the America’s “persistent poverty counties” are in rural areas. Microsoft is starting the process of bringing the rural parts of America up to speed with what the rest of us already take for granted.
How will Microsoft do it?
In the past, it has simply been cost-prohibitive to get the internet out to sparsely populated areas. Not anymore. The answer to the problem lies right in our current TV system.
They’re called “white spaces,” and they are basically vacant and unused channels within the TV band system and they can be used for broadband connection. On these 600 MHz frequencies, the connection strength is so powerful it’s known as “Super WiFi.” It can travel through walls and over hills with no problem. You can be a kilometer away and still connect to it. Combine that with other advancing technology, and Microsoft has goals to reach 2 million rural people within the next five years.
Microsoft can’t solve this problem alone. It wants to become an example and a catalyst for what can be done. Company officials have said they will license the 39 patents they have on white spaces to anyone, even a competitor, royalty-free to get this problem solved. Microsoft estimates it can solve about 10 percent of the Rural Broadband Gap problem with the plan it has laid out.
Now it’s up to Ajit Pai’s Federal Communications Commission to approve the use of white spaces in this way to unleash Microsoft. Microsoft has done this before in other countries. The company has a blueprint that works.
Rural homes were the last to be reached by electricity and telephones. It’s no different with broadband. It’s time for rural America to have the same resources everyone else has.
STEVE SHERMAN of North Liberty is a writer, business owner, and a former Iowa House candidate. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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