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Broadcasters, advocacy groups and nonprofits weigh in on Microsoft's magical broadband

The good, the bad and the ugly parts of Redmond's white space internet

'FCC is committed to bridging the digital divide'

A spokesperson for the FCC said in a statement about Microsoft's announcement: "The FCC is committed to bridging the digital divide and ensuring that all Americans can enjoy the opportunities provided by high-speed Internet access. We will continue to work in partnership with industry, state and local governments, and the non-profit community to achieve that goal.”

(The statement also pointed out that on Tuesday, FCC Chairman Pai was visiting South Boston, Virginia to learn more about Microsoft's work on bringing broadband to students in rural Virginia.)

Sharon Strover, a telecommunications researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the economic benefits of broadband (in particular in rural areas), told us by email: "Using white spaces does make a lot of sense for rural areas, where that spectrum will not face competitive pressures from other users."

She pointed out there were several experiments ongoing in this area already. She was curious what broadcasters pay to use the spectrum (Microsoft did not have an answer).

Marty Newell, CEO at The Center for Rural Strategies, an advocacy group that aims to improve economic/social conditions in countrysides and elsewhere, told The Reg that many of the estimates of the number of Americans without broadband are underestimates, because companies might claim they offer one thing but might not do that in reality.

"It's great" that large companies such as Microsoft and Google are getting involved in offering internet to rural communities – "They have some piles of cash," he says.

He said one problem with adoption is that it might be difficult for new internet services to get started in rural areas – existing services might be unwilling to offer up their own infrastructure (such as fiber cables), so new services would have to set up their own infrastructure.

That's not the only potential problem.

'Fiber-based technology'

Phillip Dampier, who directs Stop the Cap! – an advocacy group in Rochester, New York, that promotes broadband quality – told The Register by email: "While we support any initiative that helps rural customers obtain broadband service, we would prefer to see investment in fiber-based technology that assures an urban-rural speed divide does not emerge as the next big broadband problem."

He said, "Microsoft's solution, while novel, is likely to be mired in industry politics and potentially be stalled for years, as Microsoft lobbies for spectrum set-asides for its white space broadband." This would be particularly problematic in dense population areas such as the northeastern US, where some TV stations are already having to share spectrum because of repacking.

He added that New York's current rural broadband program "is making significant progress" by getting providers to expand service. "If Microsoft can deliver its wireless service quickly and efficiently, good for them, but no state should stall its agenda for rural broadband expansion based on today's announcement," he said.

CEO Shirley Bloomfield of the Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) – an advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia, for telecom companies that work in the rural broadband arena – told The Reg by email: "Our members are based in rural America and already utilize a variety of technologies – fiber, spectrum, cable plant, etc – to reach rural consumers."

Bloomfield added: "They're always eager for more tools in the toolkit in terms of network capabilities, as long as they're advancing the goal of robust affordable and sustainable broadband in rural America. We hope this is a positive step in that regard, but even the most cutting-edge wireless technology is also going to need lots of fiber backhaul to make a compelling broadband product."

Microsoft has not yet responded to a request for comment on the criticisms of its program, besides pointing to Brad Smith's existing response to the NAB's criticisms during the presentation. ®

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