Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

AP

Microsoft's ambitious goal of connecting 23 million rural Americans within 5 years hinges on access to certain empty broadcast channels, known as white space, to deploy low-cost, high-speed mobile broadband. But Microsoft will have to fend off at least two industries that are skeptical of plans to use the particular airwaves — and are actively lobbying the FCC to push back on Microsoft's ideas.

Why it matters: Extending broadband service to rural areas has been a persistent challenge. There's a renewed focus on getting service to areas too remote or costly to reach with traditional fiber or wireless service, boosted by the possibility of broadband funding in a White House infrastructure package.

"Last year's election underscored for the entire nation that there's a important segment of the population that feels neglected and left behind," Microsoft President Brad Smith told Axios. "We certainly asked ourselves whether we should be doing more in rural America than we were. We studied the problem more and concluded that now is a time when the market can be accelerated and do it in a way that the cost to closing the broadband gap can be reduced dramatically."

Wary of Microsoft's approach:

  • Broadcasters don't like the idea of Microsoft getting free access to airwaves without a license. "Microsoft's a $540 billion market cap company," said Dennis Warton, EVP at National Broadcasters Association. "If Microsoft wanted broadcast spectrum, it could have gotten it the old fashioned way by actually bidding on it. That's what other telecom companies did, instead of asking for a free-loader gift from the government."
  • Hospital groups use some of these airwaves to connect machines like cardiac and fetal monitors. They are concerned that sharing those frequencies with other unlicensed devices will interfere with remote monitoring of hospital patients.

Smith said he thinks its time all the parties discuss options and "listen to each other more" to solve the rural broadband problem. "Someday broadcasters may want to take advantage of white space as well."

How white space works: The FCC set aside some slivers of airwaves to remain open for "unlicensed" devices and services, similar to WiFi. The airwaves can carry signals across long distances and can penetrate walls, making them ideal for providing wireless broadband service in rural areas. When a special database locates available channels, an antenna beams the broadband signal as far as a 10 miles. Consumers would be able to connect to broadband through a special dongle attached to their device.

Other possible hurdles:

  • Microsoft see's Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure package as a huge opportunity for targeted federal broadband investment, but whether it materializes is a big open question.
  • Microsoft wants to enter revenue-sharing agreements with small telecom providers in rural communities. But these firms, often family-owned and serving a few thousand customers, are risk-averse and slower to be able to invest in this kind of new technology.
  • Microsoft is pitching states on matching capital investment costs, but many state governments are already pretty strapped for cash.

Lowering costs: Microsoft is far from the only firm interested in taking advantage of white space technology. Google has long been as strong proponent as well. Hardware and chip companies have also been involved in the R&D, and mass production of devices is key to bringing costs down. "We have to shift from the mindset that this is a $60-80 billion problem nationally, to thinking about it being an $8-12 billion challenge," Smith said.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.