Microsoft Corporation has launched a new fund that will invest in companies working to bring affordable Internet access to those parts of the globe that are still not connected.
The fund is a part of Microsoft's Affordable Internet Access Initiative that invests in new cloud-based services and applications, last-mile access technologies and business models that can cut the cost of Internet availability and allow more people to have affordable connections.
Through the initiative, Microsoft has partnered with Internet service providers and other private and public-sector units to provide innovative and practical connectivity, and services solutions created to bring greater impact on the greatest number of people.
Microsoft said in order to be eligible, applicants must be commercial organisations with at least two full-time employees, and have a working prototype and preferably paying customers.
Fund recipients will be given $75,000, free software and services from Microsoft, and will also get the chance to take part in a company programme that will let them connect with other grant recipients and possible investors.
Microsoft said it is expecting the applicants to provide new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of Internet accessibility, and new payment mechanisms created for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved areas of the world.
Online submission of applications commenced on Sunday, 15 November, and applicants can submit their proposals until 11:59 pm Pacific Time on 15 January, 2016.
"Today, there are approximately 4 billion people globally without Internet access," said Peggy Johnson, executive vice-president of business development at Microsoft.
"The ability to close that gap is more achievable than ever with technology that is readily available and affordable in many parts of the world. Through this fund, we hope to kick-start the entrepreneurial process by identifying promising ideas that we can help nurture, grow and scale," she added.
Microsoft's Affordable Internet Access Initiative is responsible for many other efforts such as deployment of TV white spaces technology that repurposes locally unused television frequencies to offer affordable, robust Internet access to all underserved communities, and the 4Afrika Initiative, a multiyear initiative that Microsoft is using to enhance global competitiveness in Africa through affordable access, skills development and relevant innovation.
Similar efforts have been made by Facebook as well. In August 2013, it launched "Internet.org" — a partnership between Facebook and Ericsson, Media Tek, Opera Software, Samsung, Qualcomm, and Nokia.
Internet.org helps deliver Internet access to less-developed nations by providing increased efficiency.
Furthermore, Facebook with drones and Google with its Project Loon balloons are joining hands to provide Internet connectivity in underserved areas.