As a variety of organizations and companies are working to expand (and sometimes restore) electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it, tech companies are working to make sure that people will have internet as soon as they get devices that can access it. Microsoft and Viasat are partnering to expand internet access to 10 million people living in places like Africa and North and Central America. The move is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which has used old TV spectrum and other tech to connect millions of people — though this will be the first time that a satellite internet company is getting involved.
The Viasat partnership will cover 5 million people in Egypt, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as another 5 million people in Guatemala, Mexico, and the US, according to a Wednesday press release from Microsoft. The satellite and fixed wireless tech will be used to “reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity,” according to Teresa Hutson, VP of technology and corporate responsibility at the company who is quoted in the release.
Of course, satellite internet in general comes with its own challenges and isn’t always reliable. The same is true for fixed wireless. Still, having access to the internet at all will likely be a big upgrade for many of the places that Microsoft and Viasat plan to roll connections out to by 2025.
Today’s announcement is only a small part of Microsoft’s goals for its Airband project. The company’s post says it’s aiming to provide internet access to around 250 million people by the end of 2025. It also specifies that 100 million of those people will live in Africa. That’s definitely ambitious, but the company says it has a track record here— in 2019, it announced that it was trying to connect 40 million people by July 2022. In its Wednesday post, it claimed that Airband has delivered internet access to over 51 million people, implying it met that 2019 goal.
Not all of big tech’s attempts to broaden internet access have been successful. Within the past two years, both Google and Meta have shuttered projects that aimed to use some form of aircraft to beam connectivity down toward underserved areas. And while SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet has definitely improved internet access in many areas, at least in the US, it hasn’t been particularly instrumental in helping people who can’t afford service.
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