Microsoft Wants to Fund to ISPs, Not Get into the Internet Business

After announcing it would be pushing to expand rural Internet connection in a handful of states, the tech giant has said it will supply established providers with cash.

by Max Garland, The Charleston Gazette / June 15, 2018
Microsoft Store (Dreamstime/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — Microsoft is looking at investing $1 million to $2 million in West Virginia as part of a rural broadband expansion initiative, according to the head of the state Broadband Enhancement Council.

Chairman Rob Hinton said at a council meeting Thursday that the technology giant “will be pushing very hard” to partner with an internet service provider in West Virginia for its Rural Airband Initiative once the program’s new fiscal year kicks off in July.

Microsoft announced last week that West Virginia is among the states it is targeting for the initiative, which debuted last year.

The technology giant has said it wants to partner with and give funding to internet providers, instead of jumping into competitive markets by itself. Who the provider will be in West Virginia has yet to be announced, but Hinton said the company is looking to invest $1 million to $2 million in the state through the initiative.

“That was a figure thrown out by Microsoft, as far as initiating discussions about the level of investment that they’re looking at making in West Virginia,” he said.

The company hasn’t detailed the extent of its funding in previously announced Airband projects but says it wants to deliver broadband to 2 million people by 2022 through the initiative. That would be accomplished primarily via TV white spaces, a broadband access method that can be more effective in rural areas, according to Microsoft.

Melissa Sassi, Microsoft’s Airband program manager, didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday on how much the company wants to invest in West Virginia.

Also Thursday, a council member floated the idea of adding a fee to internet users’ bills that would go toward various broadband expansion projects in the state.

Robert Cole, of the council’s adoption committee, said the state could consider creating a fund that receives about $1 per month per West Virginia internet customer.

“Folks that I have talked to in my area that are of low income say that a dollar a month is not impactful on them at all,” Cole said. “That would give us a little bit more money for projects.”

Cole said the fee would be much like what is done at the federal level, with the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund.

The Universal Service Fund collects money from telecommunications companies, which largely pass that cost onto consumers. The fund uses that money for various programs like the Connect America Fund, which focuses on rural broadband expansion.

Hinton asked Cole to present the council with a more formal proposal on the possible fee at its next meeting, in August. Any implementation of a fee would have to go through the West Virginia Legislature, Hinton said.

As far as efforts to improve internet access data — a council focal point in recent months — Hinton noted that the federal National Telecommunications & Information Administration is seeking feedback on ways the government can improve broadband access data. That data plays a role in what areas receive funding for internet expansion projects.

“We want to know how the government can better identify areas that need broadband investments, so that we can be sure any taxpayer funds supporting broadband infrastructure achieve the goal of ensuring connectivity to all Americans,” NTIA Administrator David J. Redl said in a statement.

Comments to the NTIA are due July 16. They may be submitted via email to mapping rfc@ntia.doc.gov.

©2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.