At the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., Microsoft President Brad Smith announced a new agreement between Packerland Broadband, a division of CCI Systems Inc., and Microsoft Corp. to provide broadband internet access to approximately 82,000 people living in rural regions of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the next four years.
People with access to broadband have better educational, business, agricultural and health care opportunities. Unfortunately, for the more than 19.4 million people living in rural communities across America without broadband access, these opportunities remain out of reach. The Packerland-Microsoft partnership will bring essential broadband services to the region, where on average more than 43 percent of people living in rural Wisconsin and 34 percent of people living in rural Michigan lack adequate access to broadband, and the economic and educational opportunities it enables. The Packerland partnership is part of Microsoft’s TechSpark Wisconsin program to introduce digital initiatives, including the Rural Airband Initiative, to foster greater economic opportunity and job creation in northeast Wisconsin.
“This partnership with Packerland Broadband will help us address the rural broadband gap in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “Broadband has become the electricity of the 21stcentury, essential for education, business, agriculture and health care. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is focused on bringing this necessity of life to 2 million people in rural counties by 2022.”
“Partnering with Microsoft allows us to bring new services and push our services further into the rural landscape in our region and beyond,” said Cory Heigl, vice president of Packerland Broadband. “We are the people we serve, and in this part of the world, we want to make an impact for the better. Our partnership with Microsoft will help us to influence lives by improving at-home education, enhancing economic opportunities, keeping up with health care advancements and furthering the agricultural innovation of our rural communities.”
“The mission of TechSpark Wisconsin is to bring new digital solutions to our region,” said Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin Manager Michelle Schuler. “Packerland Broadband and Microsoft are making it possible for people living in rural Wisconsin to have the same opportunities to live, learn and work as people living in connected cities. That’s win-win for the people living here and the region’s economy.”
CCI Systems, Inc. CEO John Jamar said, “We have been focused on making life better by connecting people through innovative communications networks, and we are enthused to team up with our friends at Microsoft to accelerate that.”
Packerland will use a mix of technologies to provide broadband to its customers in rural communities, including TV White Spaces and Wi-Fi hardware developed with support from Microsoft, to extend the reach of its existing hybrid fiber-coax and wireless delivery platforms. Packerland expects to cover approximately 33,750 people by the end of 2019, and approximately 82,000 people by 2022. As part of the Packerland-Microsoft project, Packerland will provide Windows devices, Office 365 and other cloud-based services to small businesses, consumers and students, as well as digital literacy skills training. Packerland will also leverage Microsoft Azure as part of its operations management.
Microsoft is an advocate for closing the rural broadband gap in the U.S. Through its Rural Airband Initiative, Microsoft aims to deliver broadband to 2 million people by 2022 through commercial partnerships with local companies like Packerland, leveraging a mixture of technologies including TV White Spaces, and through patent sharing. The initiative also includes digital skills training for people in newly connected communities. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects will be reinvested to provide additional rural areas with broadband.