Doubts On Microsoft’s Rural Broadband Plan

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By: John Phipps[1], US Farm Report

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Doubts On Microsoft’s Rural Broadband Plan

Jul 31, 2017

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced an initiative to bring high-speed broadband to rural America. About 24 million Americans do not have access to high speed internet service, which is defined as 25 megabits per second. While I think this is an admirable proposal, I doubt it will ever happen.

There are some technology issues such as cost of equipment and reach – you have to be within about 2 miles of fiber optic cable and user devices currently run about £800. Microsoft has generously offered ten billion dollars to help with costs. There are legal issues with Microsoft getting control of that is called TV White Space and the regulatory approval process would be strongly opposed by broadcasters, among others.

There are economic issues about payback or whether there is even modest interest among very isolated citizens. But the real reason behind my indifference to this commendable idea is I’ve had my hopes for services like broadband, or even rural water dashed by reality too many times. The reason is simple and inexorable.

Areas like mine are emptying out. You can see it on this map of population change in Iowa between 2010 and 2015. I use Iowa because it has superb county level data.

Counties that are not blue had zero or negative population change.

As residents become fewer and farther apart, it is almost impossible to deliver services to them except at exorbitant cost.

Given the challenges Microsoft faces to accomplish this laudable goal and the time it will take to build, even if they are successful, I don’t think many of the truly rural population will be there when it arrives.

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