Photo courtesy

X, formerly Google X, is using balloons similar to weather balloons to float into the upper atmosphere to provide Internet access to rural and remote areas.  Photo courtesy Doug Coldwell //CC

It might seem like the Internet is free, but it’s very much not. The most recent census numbers, from 2013, show that about 84 percent of United States households own a computer, and 74 percent of households reported internet use.

While those numbers are high, it still leaves about 15 percent of Americans without in-home access. The numbers are even higher worldwide. As Internet use becomes more pervasive, corporations are looking to close the gap both at home and abroad.

In late-May, Microsoft announced it would award 12 grants to businesses that increase affordable internet access worldwide. The Affordable Access Initiative grants will help businesses increase affordable Internet access. The seed grants came with resources such as free software, services, and technology support. Earlier in 2016, Microsoft invested $1 billion in using the cloud to expand affordable broadband services, as well as new partnerships and philanthropic programs.

“With more than half of the world’s population lacking access to the Internet, connectivity is a global challenge that demands creative problem solving,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development at Microsoft, in a news release.

Grant recipients were based in five different continents, with 11 countries represented: Argentina, Botswana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

But Microsoft isn’t the only tech giant wanting to bring the Internet power to the people. Since 2013, Facebook has powered internet.org, a nonprofit initiative to bring affordable internet to people worldwide, has provided Internet access to more than 25 million people.

One of the ways internet.org gets people online is through Free Basics, a program which makes certain websites data charge-free on mobile phones. Websites include pages related to employment, health, news, and education.

Facebook and Microsoft, along with Google, joined forces in 2013 to create the Alliance for Affordable Internet. The group, along with political entities and other institutions, helps bring Internet access to developing nations, a goal of the United Nations’ Broadband Commission.

A list of Microsoft’s 2016 grant recipients is available online.