Collaboration, competition, connectivity: Q&A with Paul Garnett of Microsoft's Affordable Access Initiative

Paul Garnett (left) and his team work with internet access providers and other partners to deploy new last mile access technologies, cloud-based services and applications, and business models that reduce the cost and improve the quality of internet access. Photo by: Microsoft

As the cost of bandwidth on fiber networks comes down, startups are seizing the opportunity to deploy terrestrial wireless networks that can deliver internet access at lower cost and higher quality than satellite, even in remote areas.

The approach could help to tackle the “digital divide” — an increasing concern on the global development agenda as communities with poor internet access risk falling further behind, according to a report published on Wednesday.

At Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, for example, the telecommunications company C3 is on the verge of replacing satellite internet with its TV white space and wi-fi network, which is capable of providing high-speed broadband, said Paul Garnett, director of Affordable Access Initiative at Microsoft.

“Most markets now have decent fiber optic backhaul networks, and there are companies that would love to be able to leverage that infrastructure to deliver broadband access to small businesses, governments, and of course NGOs and the development community,” Garnett told Devex.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.