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Microsoft announced plans to expand Iowa’s broadband coverage through a partnership with a Texas-based internet service provider as part of its Microsoft Airband Initiative.

The initiative seeks to extend broadband access to more than 3 million underserved rural Americans by July 2022, the company said Wednesday morning in announcing its agreement with Nextlink Internet of Hudson Oaks, Texas.

Together, Microsoft and Nextlink intend to focus on Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, across which the companies estimate about 29 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds — defined by the Federal Communications Commission as 25 megabits per second, or Mbps, in download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.

The companies say their agreement could bring broadband access to more than 9 million residents across those states, including an approximate 1 million in unserved rural areas.

Microsoft launched its Airband Initiative in July 2017 and has supported small- and medium-sized internet companies in completing infrastructure projects, digital skills trainings and public policy advocacy.

Nextlink already is deploying broadband connectivity technologies in Texas and Oklahoma, and plans to immediately begin deployment efforts in the other four states, with rollouts scheduled through 2024, according to the Microsoft release.

In some markets, the technologies will harness unused TV frequencies — so-called “white spaces.”

A Nextlink spokesman said the internet service provider has not yet determined where, in terms of specific Iowa cities or communities, it will roll out broadband but added that the decisions will be guided by “where we can make investments most cost effectively.”

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Officials with Nextlink plan to study and make those determinations in the coming months, the spokesman said.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to share the approximate sum it will invest in rural broadband through its Nextlink partnership but said it will provide “technology access and expertise, digital skills and general support,” including competitive access to towers and discounted TV “white space” equipment.

“Partnerships with regional ISPs like Nextlink that have the desire and wherewithal to provide internet connectivity are a critical part of closing the broadband gap and helping families, children, farmers, businesses and whole communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century,” Shelley McKinley, Microsoft’s vice president of technology and corporate responsibility, said in the release.

Her company touted an additional $47 billion to $65 billion in annual gross benefit U.S. farmers could unlock, according to an April study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by realizing the full potential of digital technologies, including through broadband connectivity.

Microsoft in September 2018 announced a previous initiative partnership, with Network Business Systems, of Geneseo, Ill., that focused on expanding rural broadband access in Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota. Muscatine, Clinton and Scott counties were the focuses of that rollout.

Under its Airband Initiative, the company has nearly a dozen partnerships with internet service providers in more than 20 states, with a target of broadband expansion efforts in 25 states by the end of the year.

In Iowa’s rural areas, 77.5 percent of the population has access to broadband internet while 98.1 percent of those living in the state’s urban areas do, according to the FCC’s latest Broadband Deployment Report, released in late May.

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