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Connect Americans Now

Vacant TV channels may soon be delivering high-speed internet to rural communities

Remember when you had to use bunny ears to tune into a TV channel? If you tried it now you’d just get white noise because the channel frequency isn’t being used. A coalition of rural advocates called “Connect Americans Now” is working with Microsoft and other partners to bring high-speed internet to rural communities through those vacant TV spectrums.

Zachary Cikanek is the organization’s national spokesperson. He says Microsoft has twelve pilot projects in diverse geographic regions that are demonstrating TV white space technology.

"After the digital TV transition back in 2009, you saw an increase in the number of vacant channels in the old UHF band," says Cikanek. "And, it just so happens that that particular area of spectrum is idea for rural connectivity because it can travel further, but still carry a large amount of information."

Unlike Wi-Fi, these signals can also penetrate obstacles such as trees and glass. However, regulatory approval is needed by the Federal Communications Commission before internet service providers can move ahead.

"If you have regulatory certainty around wireless spectrum and you’re an internet service provider, you know that those channels are going to remain available into the future," he says. "Then, it suddenly makes a lot of economic sense to put up the antennas and to start offering your customers the kind of equipment they need to take advantage of it."

Cikanek says their goal is to bring affordable and reliable broadband to the nearly 20-million Americans who lack connectivity, by 2022.

Learn more about high speed internet through UHF television bands

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