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Microsoft is offering $75,000 in grants to for-profit businesses that can develop low cost connectivity solutions, cloud based solutions and business models that bring the Internet to underserved markets. As examples of initiatives already live, Microsoft points towards a number of initiatives, including a service in Bhutan which uses white-spaces spectrum to deliver e-Health. Microsoft is looking to partner with Internet access providers and public and private sector entities for enabling this. The terms and conditions put forth by Microsoft:

Solution must:

– Leverage low-cost forms of Internet connectivity
– Demonstrate innovative approaches to selling cloud services geared for underserved markets
– Integrate localized payment platforms and consumption models designed for customers in relevant markets

Applications are open till Jan 15th 2016, 11:59 PM Pacific Time. The applicants also need to have a working solution and prove that their business can scale to new markets, and “Present a business plan free of legal and regulatory impediments.”

Microsoft’s isn’t the first initiative looking to develop services for enabling and encouraging access, while giving grants in terms of free access to their technology and resources: Facebook has linked its Fbstart initiative with Internet.org. Fbstart gives Facebook advertising credits and access to Facebook’s technology. Two Fbstart companies from India are Cardback and Samosa.

Microsoft and Net Neutrality in India

Microsoft has an ambiguous stand on Net Neutrality in India: its search engine Bing is a part of Facebook’s Internet.org/FreeBasics, which violates Net Neutrality. At the same time Microsoft has spoken out fairly strongly in favor of Net Neutrality and open access in its submissions to the Indian government, saying (doc):

“Broadband service providers should not be able to unduly favor their own content, applications or services, or the content, applications and services of third parties with whom they have negotiated preferential arrangements, while discriminating against third party unaffiliated content, applications and services. When users in India buy ‘Internet access’, users themselves should decide how they use it. Broadband service providers should not be able to choose what content, applications or services users can access and distribute, or pick who succeeds or fails in the markets for Internet content, services and applications. Moreover, the digital economy in India depends upon app developers and small businesses having no limitations placed on their lawful access to a free and open Internet.

Finally, Microsoft would like to emphasize the importance of applying net neutrality principles to all broadband access services platforms in India, including wireline and wireless”…”Failure to adopt a robust open Internet framework would enable―rather than prohibit―unjust preferential treatment and unreasonable discrimination, which in turn would have profoundly detrimental effects on the economy, free expression, robust competition, innovation, and democratic ideals.”

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Disclosure: MediaNama has taken a strong position in favor of Net Neutrality, and I’m a volunteer with the Savetheinternet.in coalition which is pushing for Net Neutrality in India

Image source: Flickr user Michael Kappel