Microsoft gives grants to 12 startups working on affordable internet access

More than half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to the internet, and Microsoft wants to help shrink that number.

The company announced Tuesday that it gave grants to 12 startups in 11 countries that are working to bring affordable internet access to people around the world.

They include AirJaldi, a service in India that sells wireless broadband at low cost; Kelase, an e-learning platform in Indonesia; ARED, a distributor of mobile charging and Wi-Fi stations in Rwanda; and Axiom Technologies, a broadband internet service for the state of Maine.

The purpose of the grants is to “democratize access to the Internet through grants, commercial partnerships, connecting new leaders and community engagement,” the company said in a statement.

Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) did not disclose the amount of each of the grants, but said it hopes they’ll help small service providers expand the reach of their hardware and software. In addition to providing funding, Microsoft will also give the entrepreneurs free software, such as Azure cloud services.

The Affordable Access Initiative is part of Microsoft’s goal of investing $1 billion over the next three years to use its cloud services for “the public good.”

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It is yet another example of how big tech companies are trying to bring internet connectivity to rural areas around the world. But while Google (GOOGL, Tech30) and Facebook (FB, Tech30) are actually building the tech to do that, Microsoft is partnering with entrepreneurs at a local level. That way, it can address the needs of specific communities more directly.

“Our hope is to create sustainable solutions that will not only have impact today but also in the years to come,” Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, said in a statement.

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