October 10, 2018

Microsoft's rural access program enters next phase in Maine

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
An area between Millinocket, seen here, and Mount Katahdin is being looked at for use of TV White Space technology as a way to bring broadband access to those who can't get it through traditional technology.

A Microsoft program to improve rural access to broadband, including better access to telemedicine, is starting its next phase in Maine.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative in July announced its goal to hook up 290,000 homes and businesses in rural New York and Maine that aren't served by broadband. That program will take next steps in the coming weeks, according to Mark Ouellette, CEO of Axiom Technologies, Microsoft's local internet service provider partner in the program

"I'm really excited about this," Ouellette told Mainebiz.

He plans to meet with Microsoft representatives soon to discuss access in an area outside of Millinocket that isn't served by broadband and would benefit from the TV White Space technology.

He said the group of homes, a heavily wooded area about five miles outside of the town toward Mount Katahdin, is ideal for the TV White Space technology, which uses the spectrum bands left empty when analogue TV technology was discontinued. It doesn't have the same sightline issues that other technologies do, and isn't blocked by trees.

Microsoft said Maine is ideal for the technology.

"Maine's more rural areas present unique challenges for more traditional methods of delivering broadband due to the topography and other factors," a spokesman told Mainebiz. The TV White Space technology "carries broadband signal over long distances and through rough, rural terrain.

"It is one of the most effective technologies addressing the rural broadband gap," the spokesman said. "This is why it is such a great option for Maine, and many other areas."

Axiom-Microsoft partnership

Machias-based Axiom was the only grant recipient in North America out of 12 worldwide in the initial phase of the rural access program two years ago. Axiom used the $72,600 it received to provide affordable access to homes in Washington County through the TV White Space technology.

Last year, when Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft announced the Airband Initiative in the U.S., Axiom was named as a Maine partner.

"We are very excited about the work we have done and will continue to do to in Maine," Microsoft told Mainebiz. "Our goal with the Microsoft Airband Initiative is to partner with local and regional [internet service providers] that understand the unique needs of the communities they serve, and help them leverage a mix of technologies — TV White Space, fixed fiber, and more — to create and deliver broadband services to those who do not have access to fast and reliable broadband internet."

Access to telehealth a goal

Other partners in the initiative include RTO Wireless, a Boston-based rural technology operator that is skillful in solving rural broadband issues with technology that includes TV White Space, as well as others.

A Colorado medical technology firm, Numbers4Health, recently was awarded an Airband Grant from Microsoft to help bring telehealth solutions to rural communities. The company will play a role in supporting telemedicine in rural Maine, Microsoft said.

Ouellette said that access to telemedicine is key for rural Mainers who live far from hospitals and health care, and for whom transportation can also be difficult.

Microsoft's goal is to close the U.S. rural internet gap by July 2022. The company sees the program as a basic economic necessity.

"Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century and access to reliable connectivity is essential to participate in today's digital economy," the company said. "The internet and the cloud are driving forces in helping small business compete on a national scale, opening up new opportunities in education, engineering advances in agriculture, and evolving the way people access and manage their health (through telemedicine).

According to the firm, approximately 19.4 million people living in rural areas of the U.S. don't have access to broadband "and , therefore, are unable to take advantage of the same economic and educational opportunities as their counterparts in more connected, urban areas."

"As a company, Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Helping close the rural broadband gap is one way we are bringing that mission to life, and is why we started the Microsoft Airband Initiative."


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