Microsoft expands its Airband internet access project to major cities

It aims to lower broadband service costs and help people obtain devices and digital skills.

Jeenah Moon / Reuters

Through its Airband Initiative, Microsoft has been working to close the digital divide over the last four years by expanding broadband access in rural parts of the US. But reliable, affordable internet access isn't always available in cities, either. The company is now turning its attention to urban areas and expanding the Airband program to Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, El Paso and Memphis.

Although broadband infrastructure exists in those cities, access is still unaffordable for many due to service and device costs. That leaves "access to essentials of life out of reach for millions," as Airband general manager Vickie Robinson put it in a blog post. The issue is "particularly acute in Black, African American, Latinx and Hispanic communities," Robinson wrote.

In addition to reducing the cost of broadband service, Microsoft plans to provide free or low-cost refurbished devices to help people in underserved communities in those eight cities access the internet. It will also offer tools and resources to help folks learn or improve digital skills. The company is working with a variety of partners to help make that happen, including PCs for People and DigitalC.

One of the measures Microsoft is adopting to close the digital divide is a financing program for people with low credit scores or no credit history who are low-cost broadband customers of an ISP called Starry. They'll be able to buy a Surface Go 2 and Office for Home and Student for $22 per month. The offer is open in Los Angeles and New York City, and Microsoft will bring it to the other six cities in the coming months.

Airband's expansion into cities is also part of Microsoft’s Racial Equity Initiative. The company announced the program last summer with the goal of addressing racial inequity and injustice for the Black and African American community in the US.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway at federal and state level to close the digital divide. President Biden's infrastructure plan, includes a broadband expansion while California governor Gavin Newsom's proposed budget featured a $7 billion public broadband project.

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