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July 12, 2017

Microsoft pilots internet access project in rural Maine

Microsoft launches initiative to close the rural broadband gap

Microsoft's s Rural Airband Initiative is a five-year plan with three elements:

1. Direct projects with partners: "Microsoft will invest in partnerships with telecommunications companies with the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to two million people in rural America by July 4, 2022. We and our partners will have 12 projects up and running in 12 states in the next 12 months. Our goal is not to enter the telecommunications business ourselves or even to profit directly from these projects. We will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further."

2. Digital skills training for people of all ages: "Working through Microsoft Philanthropies, our Rural Airband Initiative will invest in helping to train people of all ages in these rural communities on the latest technology so they can use this new connectivity to improve education, healthcare, agriculture, and transform their businesses. Our first partnership under the Rural Airband Initiative will be a multi-year partnership with National 4-H Council — engaging America's largest youth development organization, 4-H, to provide digital literacy skills training to youth, as well as teen-led learning programs in rural communities."

3. Stimulating investment by others through technology licensing: "Our ultimate goal is to help serve as a catalyst for market investments by others in order to reach additional rural communities. We therefore are launching a new technology program to stimulate investment through royalty-free access to at least 39 patents and sample source code related to technology we've developed to better enable broadband connectivity through the use of TV white spaces spectrum in rural areas."

Rural Maine will benefit from the Microsoft Corp.'s pilot project, in partnership with Axiom Technologies in Machias, to tap into unused television frequencies, or TV white space, to beam internet service to last-mile areas.

Maine Public reported that 20,000 rural Maine households lack internet service. "And many more are underserved," Axiom President Mark Ouellette told the station.

In a white paper posted on the company's website Tuesday, Microsoft President Brad Smith announced a national initiative to close the broadband gap that hampers economic growth in rural America.

"In urban America, we have thankfully become accustomed to ongoing capital investments to expand broadband capacity in areas that already have broadband coverage," the white paper stated. "But the time has come to expand this coverage to the rural areas that lack it entirely. As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind over 23 million people living in rural America. To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation."

The Bangor Daily News reported Axiom previously received a $72,000 Affordable Access Grant from Microsoft, which helped Axiom to deploy TV white space service for $9.99 per month for the first year, as well as to offer digital literacy training. Axiom was one of 10 recipients in all, spanning the globe from India and Africa to South America.

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