Tech giant Microsoft said today that it has awarded grants to entrepreneurs who want to expand Internet access across the world, especially in less prosperous areas that lack affordable access. The company’s Affordable Access Initiative awards grants to startup companies that are developing new technologies to improve Internet access to communities.
The goal of the initiative is to “democratize access to the Internet through grants, commercial partnerships, connecting new leaders and community engagement,” according to Microsoft. The companies that are selected will receive seed grants and resources that include tools such as free software, services and technology support that can help extend the reach of their hardware, applications, connectivity and power solutions.
Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged to invest $1 billion to harness the power of cloud technology for the public good, including the expansion of access to affordable broadband services, new commercial partnerships and various philanthropic programs.
Breadth of Services
Twelve businesses in 11 countries have received grants in the round of funding announced this week. Among the Affordable Access Initiative grant recipients are: power solutions firms African Renewable Energy Distributor from Rwanda and New Sun Road from Uganda; Zaya Learning Labs in India; and several providers of connectivity solutions from countries, including the United States, India, Malawi, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Microsoft also is funding a quartet of applications solutions providers: Kelase from Indonesia; Movivo in the U.K.; Argentina-based Tambero.com; and VistaBotswana.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told us that the grants are about bringing to various parts of the world a greater breadth of services, higher bandwidth, higher consistency between services and higher reliability overall.
“Microsoft realizes that one of the problems in moving cloud services to emerging markets is the lack of quality, consistency, and reliability in those segments,” said Enderle. “They are funding to fix those issues so their cloud services can be made more attractive in markets that should prefer them.”
Scalable and Sustainable
To qualify for a grant, a company must demonstrate to Microsoft that it is developing new, innovative technology that harness various resources to expand Internet connectivity — even such resources as the unused broadcasting frequencies called TV white spaces.
The company is also looking for scalable business models and sustainable solutions. In addition to financial support, Microsoft is offering peer and mentor programs to providers that it taps for the Internet expansion initiative. Microsoft is also making its research and development team available for consultation, and is offering annual virtual conferences and monthly virtual touchpoints for grant recipients.
Microsoft Philanthropies will also make digital literacy, online safety and computer science education programs available via its YouthSpark initiative, along with cloud product donations and training for nonprofits.