After oxygen and food, the internet has become, arguably, the next most important thing to man. It has become so ingrained in a lot of the things we do that not a lot of people can live without it. It’s why big corporations, such as Microsoft, are taking initiative to expand its reach.

On Sunday, Microsoft announced, via their news centre blog, that they have launched a new fund to support “companies with solutions that bring affordable Internet access to underserved markets. The fund is part of Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative, which invests in new last-mile access technologies, cloud-based services and applications, and business models that can reduce the cost of Internet access and help more people affordably get online.”

According to Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, “Today there are approximately 4 billion people globally without Internet access. 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.” She added that through the fund, the company hopes to “kick-start the entrepreneurial process by identifying promising ideas that they can help nurture, grow and scale.”

Under the Affordable Access Initiative, Microsoft looks to partner with internet service providers and other organizations in the public and private sector to provide practical solutions to enable underserved communities have access to affordable internet.

There have been other initiatives with the aim of providing affordable internet in recent times. There’s the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a coalition of “private sector, public sector, and civil society organisations” that exists with the aim of bringing affordable internet access to developing countries. This group signed an MOU with the Nigerian Ministry of Communication technology in 2013. Then there’s the Facebook-led Internet.org initiative that aims to provide affordable internet services to two-thirds of the world that don’t already have it.

How to apply for Microsoft funding

Microsoft highlights that eligible organizations are those that are “commercial, with two or more full-time employees” and they must have a prototype of a working solution and preferably paying customers.” Their products and business models “might combine new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of Internet connectivity, and new payment mechanisms designed for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved markets.”

Selected companies will receive “approximately $75,000 in funding and free software and services.” They will also “ have the opportunity to participate in a program offered by Microsoft to connect with other grant recipients and potential funders.”

The deadline for application is 11:59pm Pacific Time on January 15, 2016. Eligible companies can submit their application on the Affordable Access Initiative homepage.

Photo Credit: JeepersMedia via Compfight cc

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