Microsoft and the Alliance for Affordable Internet work to drive down broadband costs, enable universal access

Technology is playing an increasingly critical role in overcoming barriers for social and economic development around the world, for a diverse range of applications in education, healthcare, business, delivery of government services and others.

However, a wide gap remains between those who have access to technology and those who don’t. While 77 percent of the developed world is online, that number drops to 31 percent in the developing world. This disparity is partly due to prohibitively high broadband costs. At Microsoft, we are committed to bridging the digital divide through innovative technology solutions to provide universal broadband access to improve local communities.

This week, I’m in Abuja attending the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Annual Forum, where I’m pleased to announce our membership in the newly formed Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). A4AI is a global coalition of key leaders from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors from developed and developing countries committed to improving broadband access in less developed countries by driving down costs.

Through research, advocacy, knowledge-sharing and promotion of public participation in government, A4AI is focused on changing policies and regulations to create conditions for open and competitive broadband markets. In Africa, broadband access is not affordable for more than 80 percent of the population. A4AI is working toward achieving the UN Broadband Commission’s target of entry-level broadband services being priced at less than 5 percent of a person’s monthly income.

We believe this goal is achievable, even for people living in poverty. To accomplish their goals, A4AI will work with three countries during the first year to identify and address affordable access challenges, build case studies around best practices and unite stakeholders and regional leaders to work toward clear policy and regulatory measures around broadband costs. By 2015, A4AI hopes to be working on the ground in 10 to 12 countries.

In addition to our policy advocacy through organizations like A4AI and the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, Microsoft has worked to develop technical solutions that tackle broadband affordability challenges. One such technology, Dynamic Spectrum Access, enables wireless communications devices to opportunistically tap into unused radio spectrum to establish broadband connections.

To demonstrate the viability of dynamic spectrum access, Microsoft has teamed with governments and industry partners around the world to improve access to affordable broadband. Last February in Kenya, we launched low-cost high speed wireless broadband access to previously unserved rural locations near Nanyuki using TV white spaces technology and solar power. The project brings new education, healthcare and delivery of government services and business opportunities to the local population. We’ve also supplied local schools with Office 365, Windows 8 and Windows Multipoint Servers to ensure the community can take full advantage of the new broadband access.

More recently, we’ve announced TV white spaces pilots in Tanzania, where we are working with local partners to provide students and faculty members in Dar es Salaam with low-cost wireless connectivity and devices, and in South Africa, where we plan to deliver broadband access along with Windows tablets and other resources to secondary schools in remote areas. All three of these pilots are part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, which aims to improve Africa’s global competitiveness by empowering Africa’s students and entrepreneurs by facilitating mass technology access.

In addition to our pilots in Africa, we’re working to improve access to the Internet in Singapore, where we’re testing a range of commercial applications for the technology; in the Philippines, where we’re exploring how to improve services for the fisheries sector using broadband connectivity; and most recently in the United Kingdom, where we’re following up a technical pilot we completed in 2012 with a new commercial trial.

These pilots are just a few of many global efforts to improve broadband access worldwide. By working with others in government, industry and civil society – whether through global organizations like A4AI, or the close local partnerships that power our pilot projects – we can leverage innovative, cost-efficient technologies and drive regulatory change needed to increase broadband access and improve quality of life around the world.

About the Author

Director, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft