Microsoft has announced a new connectivity partnership with Texas-based ISP Nextlink Internet. The two companies will bring high-speed broadband internet to rural areas in the United States. Specifically, 9 million people across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
This partnership once again extends Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which aims to leverage TV White Space (unlicensed spectrum) to bring internet to low-served areas.
Nextlink will work with Microsoft following being awarded a $281 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission in August. The company is part of 103 companies that have been awarded a share of $1.9bn over the next 10 years from the Connect America Fund (CAF) II rural broadband program.
Under the rules of the funding, companies must build services for 40% of designated locations within three years. All roll out of connection infrastructure should be completed within six years.
“We have an accelerated plan to not just meet the FCC’s six-year buildout requirement but exceed it. We plan on investing over $100m in the first four years of this buildout effort,” says Nextlink CEO and co-founder Bill Baker.
Microsoft has been critical of the FCC’s approach, saying the regulator has underestimated how many American don’t have broadband. FCC chairman Ajit Pai says broadband connectivity across the United States has improved dramatically.
Microsoft disagrees and says the vast improvements Pai highlights may have come from bad data. Pai referenced the Draft of the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report to reach his conclusions. Microsoft points out advocacy group Free Press found new ISP Barrier Communications over-reported its coverage.
Watch Communications Collaboration
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced a partnership with Watch Communications to expand its Airband plans. Through the tie up between Airband and Watch Communications, Microsoft will bring broadband to 4 million additional people. 815,000 of those live in rural locations and would not have fast internet otherwise.