An effort by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) to expand rural broadband access in Indiana is moving forward. The company says it has tapped Ohio-based Watch Communications to begin the development process to connect communities in 50 Indiana counties to high-speed internet.

The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which the company in December announced was being expanded to several states, including Indiana. The agreement with Watch Communications will also benefit areas in Illinois and Ohio.

Microsoft says Watch will use funds awarded by the Federal Communications Commission to work with Indiana counties to develop a deployment approach for rural broadband services that best meet the needs of local communities. Additionally, the company will use its network to design an Internet of Things network to serve Hoosier businesses.

"Every person deserves the same opportunity. But too often and in too many places, these opportunities are limited by where people live and their access to reliable and affordable broadband access," Shelley McKinley, general manager of technology and corporate responsibility for Microsoft, said in a news release. "We’re partnering with Watch Communications to improve broadband access in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio and build on the incredible work being done by state and local leaders on this issue on behalf of their citizens."

Microsoft cites the FCC broadband mapping report, which says more than 673,000 Hoosiers do not have access to broadband internet. The company’s own data suggests more than 4.3 million people are not using the internet at broadband speeds.

Microsoft says the partnership with Watch Communications is expected to cover more than 1 million Hoosiers, more than 440,000 of whom are in unserved rural areas.

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