Microsoft Urges $10 Billion Broadband Investment

By now, it’s a well-established fact that access to high-quality telehealth care is nearly impossible without access to high-quality broadband Internet. And it’s been equally well established that, while progress has been made when it comes to the expansion of U.S. broadband infrastructure, work remains to be done in terms of getting people connected. Indeed, studies have shown that more than 30 million Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband Internet, including as many as 39 percent of people residing in rural areas. With these statistics in mind, advocates in recent months have been urging increased investment in broadband infrastructure. The latest to add its voice to the push for broadband: Microsoft. As the Seattle Times first reported, the company is urging a $10 billion federal-corporate partnership to better connect rural consumers to broadband services. “One thing we’ve concluded is just how important broadband is for all kinds of things,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Times in an interview before officially announcing the initiative.

Speaking at a Microsoft event in Washington, Smith offered details about the program, the goal of which is to eliminate the “rural broadband gap” within the next five years. One strategy for doing so: relying, in combination with other technologies, on the so-called “TV White Spaces spectrum,” which, as Smith explained in a blog post, is “unused spectrum in the UHF television bands.” More specifically, “this powerful bandwidth is in the 600 MHz frequency range and enables wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees.” The company has previously successfully rolled out white space initiatives in other countries. While Microsoft, per Smith, will be making a “very substantial” financial commitment to the project, the company is urging the federal government, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to join them in their efforts. “The key now is to stimulate private sector investment and combine this with targeted and efficient public-sector support,” said Smith in the blog post.

Microsoft is only the latest organization to push for robust investment in broadband. As we previously noted, the importance of broadband coverage for the provision of telehealth services—and for health outcomes generally—has been a recent key area of focus for many rural health care advocates. Earlier this year, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), and other organizations urged FCC to prioritize the expansion of broadband access as a way of addressing health care disparities. AMIA encouraged the agency in a letter to consider broadband access “a social determinant of health,” given its importance to telehealth and other mobile health technologies, as they craft broadband policy. And last month, a report from the FCC’s Connect2Health initiative found an increase in the number of Americans residing in so-called “double burden” counties, where people experience both limited access to high-quality broadband Internet and significant prevalence of chronic disease. On a related note, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), both longtime advocates for telehealth, recently introduced the Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead on Telehealth (RURAL) Act, which is designed to increase the affordability of broadband service for providers treating patients in rural communities.

Click here to read the article from the Seattle Times about Microsoft’s broadband initiative.

Click here to read the blog post from Microsoft President Brad Smith on the broadband initiative.

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