Microsoft Awards Affordable Internet Grants

Microsoft issues grants to 12 companies that are working to bring affordable Internet access to more than half of the world's population.

Internet connectivity

Microsoft's Affordable Access Initiative has awarded grants to 12 companies working to bridge the digital divide, the software giant announced this week.

As its name suggests, the Affordable Access Initiative is a funding and technology partnership program that was formed to help bring low-cost Internet access to underserved communities. Launched by Microsoft last November, the initiative builds on the company's TV white spaces work to help solve the "last-mile" connectivity challenges that effectively cut off a huge chunk of the world's population from the Internet.

According to Microsoft, an estimated 4.2 billion people, or 57 percent of the world's population, lack Internet access. To put a dent in those figures, Microsoft provided grants to a dozen companies from 11 countries.

"With these grants, we're partnering with local entrepreneurs across five continents, each of whom deeply understand the unique needs of their own communities, and are already delivering hardware, applications, connectivity and power solutions to solve them," said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Business Development at Microsoft, in a May 23 announcement. "Our partners will receive seed funding, as well as a range of resources, including mentorship and BizSpark tools like free software, services and tech support so they can scale up the great work they are already doing in their communities."

Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged $1 billion in cloud services over three years to serve the public good.

"Microsoft is empowering mission-driven organizations around the planet with a donation of cloud computing services—the most transformative technologies of our generation," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a Jan. 19 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."

The first batch of recipients fall into four solutions categories: power, hardware, connectivity and software applications.

In the power category, Microsoft teamed with two companies, including New Sun Road from Uganda, which is building out a network of solar-powered microgrids that provide broadband Internet access. In the hardware category, Microsoft's investment in Zaya Learning Labs from India will help bring educational video content to rural schools using a WiFi-enabled device called ClassCloud.

A total of five Internet connectivity specialists received grants, including Axiom Technologies from the United States. Serving Washington County in Maine, Axiom provides last-mile connectivity solutions to the area's businesses, nonprofits and customers. Finally, Microsoft is backing four software application companies, including Argentina's, a cloud-based app that uses artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies to help farmers manage their livestock.

Below is the complete list of the grant recipients:

  • AirJaldi (India)
  • African Renewable Energy Distributor (Rwanda)
  • Axiom (United States)
  • C3 (Malawi)
  • Ekovolt (Nigeria)
  • Kelase (Indonesia)
  • Movivo (United Kingdom)
  • New Sun Road (Uganda)
  • (Argentina)
  • VistaBotswana (Botswana)
  • WiFi Interactive Network (Philippines)
  • Zaya Learning Labs (India)
Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...