Microsoft, Viasat team to deliver internet access to global underserved communities

New collaboration through IT giant’s Airband Initiative designed to increase satellite broadband availability for people across Africa and the rest of the world by the end of 2025

Global communications company Viasat has become the first satellite partner to work with Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which has the stated aim of advancing access to high-speed internet and meaningful connectivity as a fundamental right.

The companies quoted research from the United Nations’ (UN’s) International Telecommunication Union showing that roughly one-third of the world’s population – 2.7 billion people – have still never used the internet. They said satellite will allow internet access to reach remote areas that have previously had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity.

The two firms also noted that nearly one-third of the world’s population is lacking online access to education, better medical care, business opportunities, connection with family, and more – and most of this population lives in just 20 countries across Africa and the Global South.

Launched in 2017, Microsoft’s Airband Initiative works through partnerships with local and regional internet and energy access providers, telecom equipment makers and non-profits, as well as governmental and non-governmental organisations, to advance access to affordable internet and relevant digital skills around the world. Microsoft said that through Airband, high-speed internet access has been delivered to more than 51 million people globally, including over four million in unserved US rural communities, plus 47 million in 16 unserved and underserved countries outside the US.

Universal, affordable internet access is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and by focusing a large portion of this new partnership on Africa, Microsoft and Viasat say they are working to deliver connectivity and digital literacy for better education, healthcare and economic opportunity in critical markets.

Under the partnership, the companies say they will endeavour to deepen Airband’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Guatemala Mexico and the US, as well as prioritise expanding the programme to Egypt, Senegal and Angola to deliver internet connectivity, often for the first time.

The new partnership builds on the existing relationship between Viasat and Microsoft Azure Space and is regarded by the two as a “first of its kind” global partnership for Airband and an important step in reaching the Initiative’s expanded goal of delivering internet access to a quarter of a billion people across the world, including 100 million on the continent of Africa, by the end of 2025. 

The companies have committed to combine expertise and assets to help enable telehealth, distance learning and education, precision agriculture, clean power and other services to reach new areas through what they call “the transformational provision of power and connectivity”. They will also collaborate to provide and pilot technologies including, but not limited to, satellites, both geostationary orbit and low Earth orbit, and fixed wireless.

“We believe access to the internet is a fundamental right and that digital skills create and enable economic prosperity for people, businesses and governments,” said Teresa Hutson, vice-president of technology and corporate responsibility at Microsoft. “Working with Viasat, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity. Together, we will be able to rapidly scale and expand Airband’s reach, exploring a wider pipeline of projects and new countries where we haven’t yet worked.”

Evan Dixon, president, global fixed broadband at Viasat, added: “We are proud to partner with Microsoft as it represents another important step in bringing an affordable internet service across Africa, Latin America and the US, as both companies continue to break down barriers to bridge the digital divide and make significant progress toward digital equity and inclusion.

“Providing internet access to the world is a challenging and bold goal and doing so in a sustainable and responsible manner will unlock enduring opportunities for those who need it most.”

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