Microsoft and Nextlink join forces to help close the rural broadband gap for 9 million people

Millions of residents in six states across the country could finally get access to high-speed internet thanks to a new agreement between Microsoft and Texas-based fixed wireless internet service provider Nextlink Internet.

The agreement announced on Sept. 18 hopes to “close the broadband gap” in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Microsoft and Nexlink’s ultimate goal is to bring broadband access to more than nine million people, including more than one million currently living in unserved rural areas.

This partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, a strategy for eliminating the U.S. rural broadband gap and extending access to more than three million unserved Americans by July 2022.

“It’s time to deliver on the connectivity promises that have been made to people across the country, and this partnership will help do that for many who have been left behind and unserved in the heartland of America,” said Shelley McKinley, vice president, Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft, in a press release.

Nextlink Internet offers internet service primarily in Texas including portions of Waco, Hillsboro, Grandview, Fort Worth, Brownwood, Decatur, Gainesville and other surrounding areas. They’ve recently started to cross the Red River to provide internet service in parts of Oklahoma as well, including Marietta, Burneyville and Grady.

Under the Microsoft partnership, Nextlink Internet will continue its deployments in Texas and Oklahoma before immediately rolling out deployments in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois through 2024.

One of the hopes of the partnership is that the six states can take advantage of improved economic, education and telehealth opportunities from improved connectivity, particularly when it comes to agriculture.

Farming in those states accounts for 29% of the agricultural output of the U.S., or more than $120 billion in annual agriculture value, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This partnership will enable the coming of precision agriculture, IoT, digital healthcare, access to higher education and overall economic growth,” said Ted Osborn, Nextlink SVP of Strategy & Regulatory Affairs, in the press release.

“Our experience tells us that advanced broadband access and community support can make these promises a reality in relatively short order.”

In August, Nextlink was awarded $281 million over the next 10 years from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of its $1.98 billion Connect America Fund (CAF) II rural broadband program. Rural broadband access — or rather the lack thereof — has been a heated discussion amongst government officials and presidential candidates.

Earlier this year, the FCC announced that 21.3 million people across the United States lack access to broadband internet, defined as internet download speeds of up to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

However, the FCC’s figures have been widely criticized. Independent research from Microsoft released in April revealed that the number may be closer to 162.8 million — nearly half of the country.

The commission even stated their own figures were wrong after previously reporting the number was 19.1 million. Last month, the FCC seemingly admitted their reporting process was flawed after announcing a new process for collecting fixed broadband data called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection that should provide more accurate and detailed data.

Continue to follow our Resource Center to keep up with rural broadband access improvements over the coming years.