Microsoft Needs to be Bigger Broadband Advocate

By Doug Mohney December 08, 2014

If you haven't noticed by now, Microsoft is going gangbusters promoting its "cloud first/mobile" first strategy, with subscription bundles galore for online services. Rumors abound that Windows 10 may go into a subscription-based model.  However, Microsoft's shift to a cloud and services model means it is becoming more dependent upon broadband to be plentiful and available. It is only a matter of time before Microsoft starts making noise about the necessity of faster pipes available to the largest number of users. 

Consider that Microsoft is now, today, offering access to Office 365 Personal at $6.99 per month, plus a terabyte of online storage (Hey, Cox, if Dropbox and Microsoft can give me 1 TB thrown in with my subscription, why can't you?), plus free Skype long distance minutes. One of the assumptions for the offer is access to sufficient and (relatively) unlimited bandwidth to fill up a terabyte of storage, along with being able to access a hosted cloud version of Office or being able to regularly download the updates.

Moving Windows to a subscription-based model is harder to imagine, unless it is the "razor" to access other Microsoft software and cloud services. Regardless of what business model Windows 10 takes, a move to the cloud means Microsoft needs as many users as possible to have access to faster broadband.

If you appreciate ironies, Microsoft is now in the same camp as Facebook and Google. It needs broadband everywhere so it can get access to more customers in developing markets and faster broadband for developed markets. Like gigabit and faster broadband.

Communications service providers are a mixed bag in the more-faster broadband universe. The cable industry is happy with its access to its markets and has a plan to upgrade to gigabit speeds through DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts. There's a smooth synergy between cable broadband upgrades, Microsoft's embrace of the cloud, and cable's continued hunger to grow its business customers.

And then we get to the phone companies. CenturyLink and Frontier are announcing new fiber projects at an impressive rate as Verizon continues to sit on its existing FiOS deployments. AT&T has rolled out new fiber projects in response to Google Fiber deployments and made vague noises about deploying to up to 100 cities before promptly retracting the vague promises with the threat of heavier FCC regulation. But AT&T has no problem in taking PR and legal steps to impede relatively rural municipalities from independently deploying fiber.

Rural carriers, aided by ADTRAN and other vendors with a stake in the outcome, are making the most of government funding to deploy faster broadband.  It would be interesting to dig up how much fiber rural carriers have deployed in the past couple of years and compare it to the "big boys" of AT&T, Google, and Verizon. I suspect there are some interesting surprises in the data that would prove to be embarrassing to some large publicly traded companies.

Microsoft knows the sting of the Department of Justice and antitrust law.  And it needs faster broadband to more places.  It may or may not support "Net Neutrality," but it will be prepared to support service providers—other than Google—who are rolling out faster broadband services and increasing broadband footprint. AT&T and Verizon need to recognize they have a possible ally, but to win support of that ally, both companies will have to do less talking about broadband projects and more actual physical deployments of faster services and wider footprint. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Editor

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