The latest Microsoft Airband partner is Watch Communications, which will work with Microsoft to bring high-speed broadband to 50 counties in Indiana, 22 counties in Illinois and most counties in Ohio. The Microsoft Watch Communications partnership will use a variety of broadband technologies, with an emphasis on fixed wireless operating in TV white spaces, the companies said.

The partnership hopes to eventually cover 3.78 million people across the three states, 808K of which are in rural markets and currently unserved, according to Microsoft.

The Microsoft Airband project, initially announced in 2017, aims to bring high-speed broadband to parts of rural America where high-speed broadband is not currently available. Prior to announcing the project, Microsoft conducted research that suggested that fixed wireless would be the most efficient means of bringing broadband to the vast majority of rural residents lacking broadband connectivity, although the company also saw a role for fiber-to-the-home and satellite broadband, depending on population density.

Watch Communications is the internet business unit of Benton Ridge Telephone Company. The Watch unit, founded in 1991, already uses a combination of fixed wireless and fiber to provide broadband service in rural areas of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Watch Communications acquired several other providers in recent years and was one of the biggest winners in the CAF-II auction of rural broadband funding, having received $52 million to expand rural broadband coverage across its 3 state territory.

Watch Communications Tower (Source: Watch Communications)

TV white spaces technology uses vacant TV broadband spectrum, incorporating database technology to ensure that broadband providers only use spectrum that is available for unlicensed use in a geographic area. 

Microsoft Watch Communications Partnership
Microsoft previously announced several other Airband partners but the Watch Communications partnership appears to be one of the biggest. 

As with other Airband projects, the projects with Watch Communications will include digital literacy programs aimed at enabling area residents to appreciate and benefit from broadband capabilities. 

Other highlights from today’s press release

  • Together, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio account for more than $28.5 billion in agricultural value, with all three ranking in the top 16 states by agricultural output
  • Watch Communications has been working to use its network to support an Internet of Things network to serve Indiana businesses
  • Microsoft estimates that 17 million people in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois do not use the internet at broadband speeds

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