Microsoft continues TV White Space long range Wi-Fi push, this time in rural Virginia

Dave W. Shanahan

Microsoft Education

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Microsoft and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) partnered to launch the Homework Network. The Homework Network is an initiative to bring free broadband internet access to rural families in Charlotte and Halifax counties in southern Virginia. At the moment, about 50% of these families do not have access to broadband internet access.

Nationwide, a staggering 7 out of 10 teachers give students assignments where broadband access is needed. MBC hopes to bridge this “homework gap” for rural students where broadband access is otherwise unavailable. Unsurprisingly, the inability of these rural students to get broadband access can have consequences; these students may be unprepared for the training needed for future education and job opportunities.

Therefore, Microsoft and MBC are turning on what will become the largest Homework Network in the US in conjunction with another supporter, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. The Homework Network started as a pilot program in 100 households in Charlotte and Halifax counties, with plans to extend to 1,000 homes and 3,000 students by the end of this year.

The Homework Network will provide students with free broadband access to their schools’ online networks so they can access all their educational resources and school assignments. MBC President and CEO Tad Deriso notes the importance of the Homework Network and closing the “homework gap.”

“Closing the homework gap is critical for improving the odds of student success. We are delighted to partner with Microsoft and others on such a groundbreaking initiative that, at the end of the day, connects young people to required educational resources and strengthens our local communities. Ultimately we believe such initiatives enhance competitiveness for economic development in Southern Virginia.”

Microsoft Education Schools

Microsoft helped develop the broadband technology that is being used in the Homework Network, by making use of the unused low-band spectrum that is often referred to as “TV white space.” Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative has prompted the development and use of TV white space as a broadband alternative.

Microsoft’s Senior Director of Affordable Access Initiatives Paul Garnett added his thoughts:

“Too many students in the U.S. are falling behind their peers because they lack reliable high-speed internet access at home. Falling behind today means entering the job market at a disadvantage tomorrow. This innovative public-private partnership can help close that gap, and is one step toward what we hope is an initiative replicated in other parts of the county. Given the benefits, it is important that the Federal Communications Commission ensure there is sufficient low-band spectrum available in every U.S. market.”

Microsoft has been pushing for more use of the white space spectrum for Wi-Fi use in the US, and has been running a trial of the technology at the Seattle Center.