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Microsoft, along with a slew of rural broadband and technology groups, is launching a new issue advocacy coalition called Connect Americans Now that aims to eliminate the digital divide in rural America. It's part of a greater push by the company and others to close the broadband gap by using TV "white spaces" spectrum — or vacant channels.that use TV frequencies that are generally cheaper than fiber optic cable. Why it matters: Expanding rural access to broadband has long been a challenge in the U.S., since internet providers worry they'll never recoup the investment they make in building those networks. Roughly 34 million Americans lack a broadband connection and the vast majority – 23.4 million – live in rural areas.

Expand chart
Data: Pew Research survey; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

A senior Microsoft executive says the company will provide staffing and some financial resources as needed. Microsoft will provide small investments in capital expenditure to build the broadband networks, but like any commercial environment, it will take return on investment into consideration. "Any profit we make will reinvest back in networks," he says. The coalition is focusing on these types of airwaves because they can carry communications over greater distances and can better penetrate through walls and other obstacles, like trees, than cellular. It's hoping access to broadband will help rural communities improve their quality of life in different sectors, like health care, education and agriculture. For example, farmers can sell more goods online, and patients in distant areas can receive care remotely.

As part of its campaign, the Coalition will be urging the FCC to reserve vacant channels in every U.S. market to better enable access to broadband internet. Coalition members include Microsoft, the National Rural Education Association, Health and Library Broadband Coalition, HTS Ag, the Mid-Atlantic Broadcasting Communities Corporation, the American Pain Relief Institute, and others.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of this push and has invested in a series of pilot projects designed to serve as catalysts for widespread adoption across rural market:

  • Microsoft president Brad Smith announced the company's ambitious goal of connecting all 23.4 million rural Americans to high-speed internet this summer in Washington.
  • The company started using vacant airwaves between TV stations to power broadband connections in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were severely damaged by hurricanes last year.

"There are amazing educational resources online, but students without broadband can easily fall behind their peers," said National Rural Education Association Executive Director Allen Pratt.

The website, which features the current CAN coalition members, launches today and can be found here.

Go deeper

Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to retire, will be CEO of Trump media org

Rep. Devin Nunes. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who serves as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, will retire at the end of the year and become CEO of Trump's new media organization.

Why it matters: Nunes, once considered a moderate member of the party, became one of the fiercest defenders of former President Donald Trump throughout both of Trump's impeachments and the Intel committee's Russia investigation.

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

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