Microsoft launched last month a new fund to help cultivate companies with solutions that bring affordable Internet access to underserved markets. The fund is part of Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative, which invests in new last-mile access technologies, cloud-based services and applications, and business models that can reduce the cost of Internet access and help more people affordably get online. Microsoft partners with Internet access providers and other public-and-private sector entities on innovative and practical connectivity and services solutions designed to deliver the greatest socio-economic impact to the greatest number of people.
Although there are still approximately 4 billion people globally not yet online, universal and affordable high-speed Internet access is more achievable than ever with new technologies and business innovations. Together with our partners, we already have many exciting projects underway. Some recent progress:
- In the United States, Microsoft is partnering up with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) to help close the homework gap in two rural Southern Virginia These are counties where only about half the students have broadband Internet access at home. By wirelessly extending its existing installation of fiber-optic connectivity, MBC will be enabling thousands of school kids to have connectivity at home.
MBC will be leveraging new TV white space and Wi-Fi technologies developed by Adaptrum in San Jose, California and MediaTek in Taiwan to provide the last-mile broadband connectivity from schools to the students’ homes (as well as better connectivity within those homes). This connectivity will enable school children in these communities to do their online homework assignments on an equal footing with other kids, helping them not only succeed at school but also in the 21st century global economy.
We believe this project could serve as a model for school districts around the country (and around the world) to leverage and extend existing high-capacity infrastructure to close the homework gap in their communities.
- Outside the United States, we are completing phase one deployments of other affordable access projects with our partners. These include projects in Jamaica and Botswana where connectivity and cloud services are being provided to schools, healthcare clinics, community centers and police stations. In Botswana, we are proud be partnering with the Botswana Innovation Hub, Vista Life Sciences, the United States Agency for International Development and Botswanan ISP Global Broadband Solutions to assist Botswana-University of Pennsylvania in remotely delivering specialized medicine, including cervical cancer screenings, to women at rural healthcare clinics. In Nanyuki, Kenya, our network operator partner, Mawingu Networks, is rapidly extending the reach of its wireless broadband network, delivering low-cost “packets and power” to small businesses and individuals in rural communities.
Adaptrum and Mawingu Networks are relative start-ups that only recently began delivering commercial products and services to market and are now on a growth trajectory. We are proud to partner with these and other small companies around the world that are helping expand affordable Internet access.
Through our Affordable Access Initiative grant fund, we hope to kick start the entrepreneurial process by identifying other promising ideas, like those developed by Adaptrum and Mawingu Networks, that we can help nurture, grow and scale.
Applicants must be commercial organizations with two or more full-time employees and have a prototype of a working solution and preferably paying customers. Such products and business models might combine new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of Internet connectivity, and new payment mechanisms designed for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved markets. A list of criteria, and the application, can be found at the fund website.
In addition to receiving on average approximately $75,000 in funding plus free software and services, recipients will also have the opportunity to participate in a program offered by Microsoft to connect with other grant recipients and potential funders.
We’ve already received applications from five continents so far, with great diversity in terms of ideas and locations. If you’ve got a great idea, we encourage you to apply. Eligible companies can apply through midnight Pacific time on Jan. 15, 2016.