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If at first you don't succeed, you're Microsoft pushing its magical white space broadband
This time, Brad, this time
OK, so now it's July 2017 and Brad Smith, the new power behind the throne at Microsoft, isn't letting this go.
He told the assembled at the Willard Hotel (most of whom have no idea of its long and tortuous history) that Microsoft has the solution for rural America and broadband provision: that's right, TV white space.
It is "the best solution for reaching over 80 percent of people in rural America who lack broadband today," Smith told The New York Times in a pre-interview.
So what's changed? According to Smith, the technology is better and, critically, it has figured out how to make money from it – see, all those international trials were worth it in the end.
Here's the deal: Microsoft will pay third-party ISPs to set up White‑Fi networks and then take a share of their resulting revenues. Result: win‑win.
It has paid Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities $250,000 and, combined with $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and $250,000 of its own money, the commission plans to get 1,000 people online by the end of the year. So just $1,000 per customer.
Customers will be given "free" internet with limited access to specific websites, or they can pay $10 a month for access to the wider internet. That's at 4Mbps – which is basically enough for email and web surfing but will struggle with video. Or they can pay $40 a month for up to 10Mbps, which will give you high-quality video. Apparently, 90 per cent of those who have signed up for it have gone for the free, limited option.
And that is why White‑Fi is still going nowhere. Even when you account for the interference problems. Even when you account for the real-time technological requirements – moving frequency according to location. Even when you consider that it costs $1,000 to connect people to the network. The issue is that there is a very low concentration of people in the only areas that need this technology. And those people are not willing to pay much to get fast internet access.
This is why Comcast and AT&T haven't already saturated rural America with broadband access: because it doesn't make sense financially.
So how does Microsoft continue to delude itself – after a decade of researching, developing, funding and lobbying – that white space is worth chasing?