Microsoft: The Rural Broadband Divide: An Urgent National Problem That We Can Solve

In a blog post, Brad Smith gives an early introduction to his presentation at 9:30 PST today at a luncheon in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Every day the world is becoming more digital. Cloud computing combined with new productivity, communication and intelligent tools and services enable us to do more, do it more quickly and in ways that were simply unimaginable a generation ago. But participating in this new era requires a high-speed broadband connection to the internet. While it’s a service that is as critical as a phone or electricity, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband is unavailable to roughly 25 million Americans, more than 19 million of which live in rural communities. That’s roughly the population of New York state.

Over the past five years, the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided more than $22 billion in subsidies and grants to telecommunications carriers to sustain, extend and improve broadband in rural America. Despite these efforts, the country’s adoption of broadband hasn’t budged much since 2013. This inability to build out the last mile of the 21st century’s digital infrastructure has exacerbated the country’s growing prosperity and opportunity divides — divisions that often fall along urban and rural lines.

The full presentation is HERE.

Airband is a more rural-friendly technology than 5G, rural communities need to embrace this interim technology until they can afford fiber to the home or office.

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Microsoft Airband Update on 4 Dec @ 9:30 AM

A message from Microsoft: Broadband is essential to the way we work, live, learn, and play today. More than 19 million people in the rural U.S. don’t have a broadband connection. Lack of broadband prevents students from completing homework and research, limits agriculture and small-business opportunities, and results in less access to healthcare.

Technology offers an affordable solution. Microsoft has been working to close the broadband gap. Join Microsoft President Brad Smith, Packerland Broadband, Declaration Networks and nonprofit partners for an update on the Microsoft Airband Initiative Tuesday, Dec. 4, at noon EST/9:30 a.m. PST. Learn more here.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

 

Microsoft Airband Partner Added in Northwest, Aims to Reach 73K with Fixed Wireless

[…]

Microsoft Airband Partner

Through the partnership, Native Network will provide affordable, hybrid, fixed-wireless broadband internet access, including TV White Spaces, to tribes within Flathead Reservation in Montana as well as Lummi Nation and Swinomish Tribe in Washington.

The announcement is one of several Microsoft has announced recently to expand broadband in rural areas:

Microsoft plans to bring services to about 126,700 previously unserved people in rural communities in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota, through a partnership with Network Business Systems.

The company partnered with Agile Networks and Airband to offer high-speed broadband to 110,000 people in rural Ohio.

Microsoft provided start-up funding to U.S. companies Numbers4Health; Skylark Wireless; Cy Wireless and Tribal Digital Village and four other companies.

“Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century and is critical for farmers, small-business owners, health-care practitioners, educators and students to thrive in today’s digital economy,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a prepared statement.“The partnership with Native Network will help close the digital divide in rural Montana and Washington, bringing access to approximately 73,500 people within and around the tribal communities.”

Read more HERE.

C|NET: Why Rural Areas Can’t Catch A Break On Speedy Broadband

Everyone agrees on the mission to connect more people. But no one can agree on how to do it.

C|NET BB

 

 

This is part of CNET’s “Crossing the Broadband Divide” series exploring the challenges of getting internet access to everyone.

 

 

[…]

In previous generations, communities thrived based on their proximity to infrastructure like roads, railways, airports and rivers to distribute goods. Today, it’s about having access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet. Communities without access will simply wither and die, says Jonathan Chambers, a former FCC official and partner at the Washington-based consulting firm Conexon, which works with electric co-ops looking to deliver rural broadband service.

People will vote with their feet and move away from places that do not provide high-speed internet access,” he said. “They will leave, and that community will not survive.”

[…]

But the biggest barrier to getting broadband in certain areas of the country is low population density. Broadband providers simply won’t offer service if they can’t get enough customers to pay for it.

[…]

The advent of 5G wireless, which promises to bring increased speeds and network responsiveness, is also unlikely to reach rural communities.

[…]

Market forces are what will drive the deployment of 5G,” said Blair Levin, who oversaw the FCC’s National Broadband report in 2010 and who served as chief of staff to Clinton-era FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. “The 5G economics are very different than they are for 4G. And cities, because of their density, are in a much better position to drive 5G deployment than rural communities.”

[…]

“Even if you make it cheaper to deploy and invest in the network, if you can’t sustain a business because the population density is too low, it doesn’t really matter,” Brake said.

[…]

. . . 5G, which needs hundreds of radios to cover relatively short distances, is likely prohibitively expensive to make sense for rural areas.

There’s also the use of unlicensed TV broadcast spectrum called white spaces. Microsoft, which holds several royalty-free technology patents for using this spectrum, announced a program in July 2017 to connect 2 million people in rural America by 2022 through partnerships with telecom companies. The company promised to have 12 projects up and running in 12 states in the next 12 months.

The FCC has set rules for the use of white space spectrum and established an administrator of a national database to identify channels that can be used by devices accessing the shared spectrum. But there have been problems with the database’s accuracy, and there’s not yet an ecosystem of devices, which means it could be a while before the technology is widely used by consumers.

Full Article is HERE.  Color highlights added.

 

 

Microsoft’s Latest Rural Broadband Push

Microsoft’s latest rural broadband push: Microsoft and Declaration Networks today are unveiling plans to deploy broadband using TV White Spaces and other tech in the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Garrett County, Maryland, according to a news release.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

The Microsoft Press Release is HERE

In addition to introducing new service and technology, Microsoft is including digital skills training.

In addition to commercial partnerships with local companies like Declaration, Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative includes digital skills training for people in newly connected communities and access to royalty-free patents. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects will be reinvested into the program to expand broadband to more rural areas.

We need a Sierra Airband demonstration project. All the 5G hype is ignoring the reality that 5G does not work well in rural settings, with a requirement for a clear line of sight. Limitations that Airband can mitigate.

 

Microsoft President Brad Smith Calls for Digital Marshal Plan

At Governor’s Meeting Smith joined the governors of Arkansas and Colorado on stage to discuss the persistent digital divide means fewer education and work opportunities for people without broadband internet access.Smith called for a “digital Marshall Plan” for the country that combines public and private sector investment to ensure those living in rural communities have “the future they deserve.” Microsoft aims to bring broadband to 2 million people by 2022 through partnerships with internet providers, in part using white spaces between TV channels to deliver internet to unserved areas. On Sunday, Microsoft announced a new project in Wisconsin and Michigan to that end.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [edited]

In a state that prides its self on being a technology leader, one has to wonder where is California’s whitespace TV project?  Microsoft started with 14 U.S .projects, adding two more in Wisconsin and Michigan. Why not add one in California, especially in the Sierra where whitespace TV could provide service in highly forested areas.

 

Is 5G a Feasible Sierra Broadband Solution?

The cable industry, Arris, and CableLabs have been doing some testing of the proposed G5 frequency spectrum. The test result outline some of the challenges broadband providers face in deploying 5G services, including dealing with trees and other foliage.

Terrain and Foliage Masking

One of the highlights of living in rural Sierra counties is the plethora of trees that surround our homes and businesses. These trees we enjoy provide some real line of sight (LOS) deployment challenges for 5G providers. How significant are these challenges? According to the report, the problems are substantial for those providers using millimeter-wave distribution systems. AT&T and Verizon have spent billions to acquire millimeter spectrum and are planning to use that spectrum for G5 broadband distribution.

In its 37 GHz tests, CableLabs found that speeds decreased to around 200 Mbps at 150 feet if signals have to travel through foliage – and those figures slow to below 100 Mbps at 150 feet in dense foliage.
Rain, snow, and wind can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of millimeter wave transmissions. “The impact of deciduous and conifer trees (under gusty wind conditions) suggest that the leaf density from the conifer more frequently produces heavy link losses and these, more so at higher carrier frequencies,”

Folage Attenuation
So far we have only looked at foliage impacts. The Sierra landscape is one of hills and valleys. That rolling terrain makes the line of sight communication extremely difficult. While the top of a hill can be good distribution points, the next hill across the valley creates a shadow for the millimeter wave signal. Also, millimeter-wave beamforming antenna has some distance limitations measured in feet. The distance from hilltop to the end user in a rural setting will often exceed those limitations. Millimeter-wave distribution is better suited to urban environments were the transmission devices and be placed on light poles and other existing infrastructure close to the end user.
In the tree covered hill and valleys of the Sierra Whitespace TV proposed by Microsoft offer some advantages over 5G millimeter-wave distribution. As the report concludes:

We have come a long way in the drive to 5G — but as the saying goes — there is still a long way to go.

Note: The cable industry report discusses many complex details not covered in this short report on foliage and terrain impacts on 5G distribution in the Sierra and deserves a complete and detailed read by community broadband advocates and those opposed to G5 implementation. The full report: 2017-can-a-fixed-wireless-last-100m-connection-really-compete-with-a-wired-connection-.