Microsoft has launched a new fund for startups and other commercial entities interested in bringing affordable Internet access to “underserved markets.”

The new Affordable Access Initiative is open to any commercial company (excluding non-profits) with two or more full-time employees that already has a “working solution” to this problem. Microsoft said the solution(s) must:

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

In return, successful applicants will receive an average of $75,000 in cash, and access to complementary software and services.

Through the Affordable Access Initiative, Microsoft is teaming up with Internet access providers and other organizations — both private and public — to help develop practical ways to open up connectivity to as many people as possible. For example, Microsoft’s dynamic spectrum and TV white spaces program repurposes unused TV frequencies, or “white spaces,” for Internet providers.

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“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 kickstart the entrepreneurial process by identifying promising ideas that we can help nurture, grow, and scale.”

The move mimics other initiatives from the likes of Facebook, which has been pushing its Internet.org “Free Basics” service in developing markets such as India. Then there’s Google’s Project Loon, which serves up Internet access using balloons.

The race is on to bring the so-called “next billion” online, and with it, the major tech titans want to push their respective cloud-based services to as many people as possible.

Applications for Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative are open from today until January 15, 2016.