Microsoft, RTO Wireless Team on Rural Broadband Initiative

Computer giant Microsoft has teamed up with RTO Wireless to provide broadband access to more than a quarter million people in rural New York state and Maine.

It is the latest project in the company's Airband Initiative to connect rural areas to broadband partnerships with ISPs, and energy companies and others.

The goal is to close the rural digital divide by July 4, 2022, including by making use of unlicensed spectrum in the so-called TV white spaces between TV channels.

Related: Microsoft Pushes for TV White Spaces

Closing that divide is a major goal of FCC chair Ajit Pai as well.

“Without reliable internet access, many people living in rural America are unable to take advantage of the same opportunities as their urban neighbors,” said Shelley McKinley, Microsoft’s head of technology and corporate responsibility, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with RTO Wireless to bring broadband to students, farmers, educators and business owners across the Southern Tier and North Country of New York and Western Maine so that they have an equal opportunity to learn, grow, contribute and prosper in the 21st century economy.”

“New York’s 27th Congressional District is 65 percent underserved by broadband technologies, and it is welcome news that RTO Wireless and Microsoft are taking action to expand service in five of the counties I represent," said Rep. Chris Collins (D-N.Y.). "As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, I’ve been able to work on policies that will help bring more broadband to rural America. We still have a long way to go in making sure all of Western New York has reliable access to broadband, but I commend Microsoft for its investment in our area that will benefit thousands of my constituents.”

The National Association of Broadcasters has pushed back on the use of those so-called "white spaces," concerned about interference to the TV stations already being repacked into smaller space thanks to the incentive auction, which freed up licensed spectrum for broadband. "We want rural broadband," NAB president Gordon Smith told C-SPAN in an interview last last year, pointing out that the new ATSC 3.0 standard would allow broadcasters to be a broadband player, too, but added that he did not want that at the price of doing something "too early."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.