ARK Multicasting and Microsoft will test combining two technologies — NEXTGEN TV and white spaces fixed wireless broadband – in efforts to reduce the broadband gap in rural America. The initiative aims to reduce ISP network congestion by offloading on-demand OTT and other high bandwidth content through a distributed cloud framework. The initiative is part of Microsoft Airband, which aims to bring broadband to at least three million Americans in unserved rural areas.

TV white spaces is vacant broadcast TV spectrum that is available for use by fixed wireless broadband providers on an unlicensed basis. NEXTGEN TV was formerly known as ATSC 3.0 hybrid broadcast-broadband network. The idea is to combine the two technologies to shift high demand cloud content directly to the consumer edge, utilizing Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, according to the press release. The testing between the two companies will begin in Crockett, TX.

If the testing proves feasible, it could lead to new approaches to providing broadcast and broadband to traditionally underserved rural areas.  The goal would be to enable a more robust and less costly distributed cloud to ease network congestion caused by strong demand for on-demand OTT services.

“With Microsoft’s support, ARK believes that this pilot could be the start of standardizing the groundbreaking use of ATSC 3.0 and TV white space technology to bring broadband to rural America,” ARK CEO Vern Fotheringham said in a press release. “We believe that every community deserves to be connected, whether large or small, and we’re taking the steps to close the connectivity gap through this work.”

Microsoft has made several recent Airband announcements. Last month, it and Nextlink Internet agreed to bring broadband to hundreds of rural communities in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Plans are to include white space technology in deployments, which will continue through 2024.

In July, Airband partnered with Watch Communications to bring broadband to 50 counties in Indiana, 22 counties in Illinois and most of the counties in Ohio. Watch is the Internet business unit of the Benton Ridge Telephone Company. Like other Airband agreements, the agreement includes digital literacy programs.

Joan Engebretson contributed to this report.

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