Microsoft has announced plans to partner with 12 global businesses as part of a broader effort to deliver affordable connectivity to all corners of the world.
The company reports 57% of the world is offline. It hopes to "close the digital divide" through a project called the Affordable Access Initiative, which aims to bring Internet to the 4.2 billion people who still don't have it.
The Affordable Access Initiative aims to drive widespread change with local-level partnerships, education, grants, and advocacy. To do this, Microsoft has granted funding to 12 businesses representing 11 countries across 5 continents.
Each grant winner has existing operations in its local community. All recipients will receive funding and support from Microsoft as they work to expand their services in areas where connectivity is lacking.
Most of the winning companies come from remote parts of Africa and Asia. African companies include the African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED) in Rwanda, Ekovolt in Nigeria, New Sun Road in Uganda, C3/Chitipi in Malawi, and VistaBotswana in Botswana.
Representing Europe and the Americas are Movivo in the United Kingdom, Axiom Technologies in the United States, and Tambero.com in Argentina. Microsoft notes it will announce new funding and contribution opportunities in the near future.
The project also relies on a larger network of people to improve worldwide access to technology. A global team of peers and mentors hold yearly summits, monthly virtual meetings, and leverage Microsoft Research and Development team support to share best practices.
Additional resources like Safer Internet, the "public cloud for public good," and educational programs like YouthSpark also contribute to the goal of connecting people around the world.
Microsoft's approach of local engagement is notably different from those of competitors Google and Facebook. Both tech giants have recently announced projects to improve Internet connectivity in remote areas.
In November 2015, Google announced Project Loon, an effort to bring Internet to developing areas of Indonesia with giant floating balloons that would function as wifi hotspots. Indonesia's top mobile network operators agreed to begin testing in 2016 over parts of Indonesia, where 1 in 3 people is connected to the Internet.
Google SkyBender, a second project from the search giant, aims to deliver 5G wireless Internet using solar-powered drones that will deliver connectivity using mmillimeter wave transmission technology. The initiative is undergoing development by the same team behind Project Loon.
Several years ago, Facebook announced a Connectivity Lab to deliver Internet to everyone around the globe using satellites, drones, and lasers. The company also aims to bring basic Internet to everyone worldwide using Internet.org.
This isn't the only major philanthropic move we've seen from Microsoft this year. In January, the company announced its new Philanthropies organization would donate $1 billion of Microsoft Cloud Services to help nonprofits and university researchers over a three-year time period.
The three major goals of Microsoft's philanthropic move are to give more cloud resources to nonprofit organizations, increase access for researchers, and address challenges with last-mile Internet connectivity.