Appalachia Mountains

Microsoft has joined an initiative organized by non-profit investor Connect Humanity aimed at boosting high-speed broadband availability and adoption in underserved Appalachian communities.

To improve connectivity, Connect Humanity’s IDEA Fund (Investing in Digital Equity Appalachia) will invest in community-focused Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which it believes are best positioned to improve digital access of residents and businesses in Appalachia’s unserved areas, which are plentiful.

According to Connect Humanity, many community-focused ISPs lack sufficient access to capital, despite federal grant programs. The IDEA Fund will provide low-cost loans and other financial tools to these ISPs, to enable them to build and expand high-speed broadband networks in unserved areas.

Appalachian households are nearly one-third (31%) more likely than the national population to lack a broadband subscription, according to Connect Humanity. Some counties count less than one-fifth of households having broadband access. This severely limits people’s opportunities, especially in employment where 80% of jobs are now advertised exclusively online and 92% of jobs require digital skills.

Connect Humanity announced the IDEA fund last year, at the time with the goal of raising $25 million to award for deployment projects.

This isn’t Microsoft’s first venture into funding rural broadband deployments. The company’s Airband initiative also is focused on that goal.

“With the right partners, it’s possible to build gold-standard internet in every rural and low-income community in Appalachia,” Brian Vo, Connect Humanity chief investment officer, said in a prepared statement.

“Public investment is necessary but insufficient. It must be paired with capital from partners that prioritize community needs and understand root causes of digital inequity, while grasping the strong economics of community-based broadband. That’s what we have in Microsoft and why we’re excited for their partnership.”

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