On the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, announced yesterday that his company's new philanthropic arm will donate $1 billion in cloud computing resources to 70,000 nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over a three-year period.
"Microsoft is empowering mission-driven organizations around the planet with a donation of cloud computing services—the most transformative technologies of our generation," Nadella in a statement. "Now more than 70,000 organizations will have access to technology that will help them solve our greatest societal challenges and ultimately improve the human condition and drive new growth equally.”
Through the company's Microsoft Philanthropies organization, the software giant plans to "serve the public good" by providing cloud services such as Microsoft Azure and Enterprise Mobility Suite to nonprofits; offering 900 university faculty researchers expanded access to Microsoft Azure for Research; and tackling the last-mile connectivity challenges that keep broadband Internet access out of the reach of many communities.
The cloud's ability to overcome technological problems can also be harnessed to solve societal issues, asserted Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer for Microsoft, in an official company blog post. "Cloud services can unlock the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services," he wrote.
Despite its reach and transformative effects on the IT industry, a digital divide, of sorts, hangs over the cloud computing market.
"While the marketplace is reaching a rapidly growing number of customers around the world, it is not yet benefitting everyone," Smith added. "If we're going to realize Microsoft's mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, we need to reach those that the market is not yet reaching." This year alone, he estimates that Microsoft will provide $350 million in cloud services to nonprofits.
To link underserved communities to the Internet at broadband speeds, Microsoft is targeting TV white spaces, or unused broadcasting frequencies.
"We're enthusiastic about the potential for TV White Spaces to bring broadband connectivity at a low cost to more communities around the world—and to do so in 2016, without waiting for the arrival of the next decade," Smith said. "By combining connectivity with cloud services and training focusing on new public-private partnerships, we are setting a goal of pursuing and supporting at least 20 of these projects in at least 15 countries around the world by the end of 2017."
Microsoft has helped launch several TV white spaces pilots worldwide, including bringing "low cost connectivity to rural Kenya through the Mawingu project," Smith said. In 2013, Google received FCC approval to serve as an administrator of the TV white spaces database for service providers in the U.S.