Microsoft added an important new partner to its Airband Initiative — Zayo Group will provide backbone fiber connectivity for ISPs that are part of the Airband project and help bring high-speed internet to rural unserved communities across the country. The terms of the deal with Microsoft were not disclosed.
Airband was formed in 2017 and uses broadcast frequencies between TV channels, which are known as TV white spaces, to help deliver better broadband connectivity. Airband’s goal is to deliver broadband access to 3 million people in rural America by July 2022.
This isn’t the first deal that Zayo has signed that is targeted at rural areas. Last December, Zayo inked a deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to provide IP transit services for NCTC members, which include broadband and cable operators in all 50 states. However, these operators tend to be in small rural communities.
Zayo has direct connectivity to more than 200 IP points-of-presences (PoPs) and 1,200 data centers. The company’s 130,000-mile network in North America and Europe includes metro connectivity to thousands of buildings and data centers.
Zayo announced in May that it agreed to be acquired by affiliates of Digital Colony Partners and the EQT Infrastructure IV fund. That deal is slated to close in the first half of this year.
Microsoft has signed deals with a number of partners to help advance the Airband project. Those partners include ISPs such as RTO Wireless in rural New York, Agile Networks in Ohio and Network Business Systems in Illinois. It also revealed in 2018 that vendors Redline Communications and Radwin were making equipment suitable for white space TV deployments.
Of course, Microsoft does have a commercial interest in ensuring TV white space technology is suitable for broadband services. The company holds a number of patents on the technology but is offering those patents royalty free for use in the Airband program. Microsoft also has said that all revenues generated from Airband will be reinvested into providing broadband services.
Beyond making investments in telecom companies to expand broadband access, Microsoft also said it would invest in skills training for people in the newly connected communities.