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Microsoft: We’re bringing high-speed broadband to 9 million in US notspots

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Digital divide between urban and rural America: Microsoft challenges FCC numbers
US has “no accurate, comprehensive, and public estimate of broadband coverage”, Microsoft tells lawmakers.

Microsoft is partnering with Texas-based ISP Nextlink Internet to bring high-speed broadband to under-served rural areas in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

The partnership is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, and Nextlink is set to expand coverage in some of these areas using unlicensed TV wireless spectrum known as TV white spaces – an approach Microsoft is championing to bring broadband to rural areas. 

The Federal Communications Commission in August awarded Nextlink $281m over 10 years under its $1.98bn Connect America Fund (CAF) II rural broadband program. Besides Nextlink, 102 other bidders were awarded $1.49bn over 10 years to build out broadband networks. 

Nextlink and other CAF II-funded ISPs are now required by the FCC to build services to 40% of the designated locations within three years and complete the rollout within six years. CAF II aims to bring fixed broadband and voice services to over 700,000 locations in 45 states.   

“We have an accelerated plan to not just meet the FCC’s six-year buildout requirement but exceed it. We plan on investing over $100m in the first four years of this buildout effort,” says Nextlink CEO and co-founder Bill Baker. 

Microsoft has criticized the FCC for severely underestimating the number of Americans who lack broadband access. The tech company reckons 162 million people across the US can’t access broadband speeds, while the FCC estimates the number to be just 21 million. 

Microsoft also estimates that 29 million Americans don’t have broadband speeds in the areas Nextlink will address in the next six years.   

Baker says the agreement with Microsoft will allow for a faster deployment of high-speed broadband to underserved areas. 

The states covered by the deal account for about a third of US agricultural output worth over $120bn a year, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA estimates connected technologies enabled by better broadband would allow farms to adopt precision agricultural production techniques and could create $47bn in additional gross benefit for the US economy.   

Microsoft in December said it had already reached one million people in 16 states with Airband and announced it would make broadband available to three million people by July 2022.

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Hyundai issues massive electric vehicle recall due to fire risk

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Recalls in the automotive industry certainly aren’t anything new; they happen all the time. What is new is a massive recall that impacts only electric vehicles issued recently by Hyundai Motor that will cost about $900 million. The recall will have Hyundai replacing battery systems in about 82,000 electric cars worldwide due to a risk of fire.

The massive recall will be among the first that shows how automotive manufacturers and battery makers will pay for this type of massive and extremely costly recall. This is one of the first mass battery pack replacement recalls conducted by any major automotive manufacturer. It’s also considered very significant as we are still early in the EV era.

Analysts see this recall as setting a precedent for how other manufacturers will handle similar recalls in the future. Most of the vehicles covered in the recall are Hyundai Kona EVs, the best-selling electric car made by Hyundai. This isn’t the first recall for this specific group of electric vehicles. Last year the same vehicles were recalled for software upgrades after a rash of fires occurred.

Hyundai’s battery maker is LG Energy Solution, and it has been deflecting blame onto Hyundai for the issue. LG issued a statement saying Hyundai had misapplied its suggestions for fast-charging logic in the battery management system. LG says explicitly that the battery cell should not be seen as the direct cause of the fire risk. However, the South Korea transport ministry has issued a statement saying some defects have been found in some battery cells produced by the LG Energy factory in China.

Hyundai has offered no official comment on the cause of fires. Shares of Hyundai have declined 3.9 percent on word of the recall, while shares for LG Chem are down 2.8 percent. Hyundai has reportedly told some analysts that an agreement on how costs will be split will be worked out over the next week. Nearly 76,000 Kona EVs built between 2018 and 2020 are covered in the recall, with about 25,000 of those sold in South Korea. Some Ioniq EVs and Elec City buses are also covered in the recall. Owners are advised to limit battery charging to 90 percent of capacity until the battery has been replaced.

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2022 Land Rover Defender V8 brings 518hp to SUV icon

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Land Rover has revealed its new 2022 Defender V8, adding a much-requested engine upgrade for the SUV, along with new special editions. Returning to the US for the first time in decades last year, the new Defender combines retro-inspired styling with the sort of off-road abilities you’d expect from what’s arguably the automaker’s most enduring nameplate.

While initial reviews – ours included – were generally positive, one omission was under the hood. Land Rover launched the Defender with a pair of inline-six engines as the biggest on offer, not exactly slow but also not having that V8 grunt that some fans of the SUVs really wanted. Happily, it’s being corrected for the new 2022 model year.

2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8 and 110 V8

The 2022 Defender V8 will have a 5.0-liter supercharged V8, with 518 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. It’ll be offered in both the Defender 110 and Defender 90 body styles – with five and three doors, respectively – with the latter doing 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 149 mph. That’ll make it the fastest and most powerful production Defender ever, Land Rover says.

As you’d expect, all-wheel drive is standard, along with special suspension and transmission tuning. There’s a new Electronic Active Rear Differential which the automaker says should deliver improvements in handling and body control, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. A new Dynamic program in the Terrain Response system will be exclusive to the V8 SUVs, intended for more spirited driving on asphalt and loose surfaces.

Helping there, there’ll be larger solid anti-roll bars, and retuned Continuously Variable Damping. Torque vectoring with braking is supported, with Land Rover fitting Xenon Blue front brake calipers for the 15-inch front discs. V8-exclusive 22-inch alloy wheels and quad tailpipes will also be offered, and there’ll be three colors – Carpathian Grey and Yulong White, both with a contrast Narvik Black roof, and Santorini Black – with Shadow Atlas exterior trim detailing.

Inside, there’ll be special Ebony Windsor Leather with Mike Suedecloth and Robustec accents. The exposed cross-car beam running along the dashboard will be finished in Satin Black. The steering wheel gets Alcantara on the rim and satin chrome paddle-shifters, along with leather on the airbag housing that matches the gear selector trim. Finally, the illuminated tread plates have V8 badging.

Pricing for the 2022 Defender V8 will be confirmed closer to the SUV’s arrival in US dealerships. That’ll happen later in the year.

2022 Defender V8 Carpathian Edition

Marking the arrival of the V8 option is the 2022 Defender V8 Carpathian Edition. It’ll be the flagship of the line-up, in exclusive Carpathian Grey premium metallic paint with a Narvik Black contrast roof, hood, and tailgate. Satin Black tow eyes, Carpathian Gloss front and rear skid pans and front grille bar, and Xenon Blue brake calipers will also set it apart.

Land Rover Satin Protective Film will give the exterior a semi-matte finish but also help protect from scrapes. Inside, it’ll be the same as the regular V8 SUV. Pricing will be confirmed closer to launch.

2022 Defender XS Edition

Replacing the Defender First Edition, the 2022 Defender XS Edition will also be offered in 110 and 90 body styles. It has body-colored lower cladding and lower wheel arches, with 20-inch, contrast diamond-turned alloy wheels finished in Satin Grey. Land Rover will offer it in four colors: Silicon Silver, Hakuba Silver, Gondwana Stone, and Santorini Black. Pricing will be confirmed closer to launch.

Inside, there are 12-way, heated and cooled electric memory seats in Ebony Grained leather and Robust Woven Textile. The Cross Car Beam has a Light Grey powder coat brushed finish, and Land Rover has added the extended leather package with illuminated metal treadplates.

For other specs, there’s the P400 mild-hybrid engine with 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, electronic air suspension, adaptive dynamics, tri-zone climate control, and adaptive cruise control. It also features the updated Pivi Pro infotainment system, which is new for the 2022 model year. That has wireless device charging with a phone signal booster, plus can be had with a larger 11.4-inch touchscreen with curved glass.

Land Rover has simplified the menu structure, and there’s new navigation with dynamic guidance. Intelligent route learning promises to figure out your common routes and propose them – complete with adjustments for traffic – when you get into the car.

Still to come, more Land Rover Defender electrification

What Land Rover isn’t telling us, yet, is when the Defender will get its more serious electrification. The automaker has promised six pure electric variants across its range within the next five years, with a pure electric version of the Defender by the end of the decade.

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Fisker and Foxconn team on new EV with outsized ambitions

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Fisker and Foxconn are teaming up on an an electric vehicle, with the EV-company and the manufacturing heavyweight aiming for go far beyond the niche production in the automaker’s past. Codenamed Project PEAR – or “Personal Electric Automotive Revolution” – the goal is to make a more affordable EV that can hit the sort of sales numbers more commonplace among mainstream gas models.

Fisker is probably best known for its role in the style-forward Karma hybrid sedan, a project now being run independently by Karma Automotive. Plans rebooted, Fisker first unveiled the EMotion EV back in 2018, a striking luxury electric sedan with double-gullwing doors.

Production for that, though, was put on the back-burner, as Fisker turned instead to more affordable, mainstream fare. The Fisker Ocean is promised to be a sub-$40k electric SUV, with the car company inking a deal with auto parts behemoth Magna to build the plug-in. Manufacturing is expected to begin in Q4 2022, and even without a production-ready prototype shown – something Fisker says will happen later this year – there are apparently upwards of 12k paid reservations for the car.

One vehicle does not an automaker make, though, and so Fisker is looking to its next model. That’ll be jointly developed by it and Foxconn, sold under the Fisker brand, and included as part of Fisker’s Flexee Lease program. Foxconn will be responsible for manufacturing, bringing the same heft that powers iPhone production to automotive.

Project PEAR – details on which are scant, currently – will be “destined for multiple global markets” Fisker said today. Production is currently earmarked for Q4 2023, and it’ll be the second EV in Fisker’s range.

Fisker’s ambitions aren’t exactly low. The expectation is that it’ll take just 24 months to develop the car, including research and development, and becoming production-ready. That’s about half the time most automakers would expect to take. Foxconn hasn’t been shy about its EV hopes in the past, either, already cutting deals with Byton and Fiat Chrysler in the past on electric vehicle technology.

“The key success elements of electric vehicle development include the electric motor, electric control module and battery,” Young-way Liu, Foxconn Technology Group Chairman, said today in a statement. “We have two major advantages in this regard, with an exceptional vertically integrated global supply chain and the best supply chain management team in our industry.”

Discussions are underway between the firms, with a formal partnership expected to be signed in Q2 2021. The two firms are aiming high, too, with projected 250,000 annual volume of the vehicle. Exactly what it will look like, cost, how much range it might pack, where it will launch, and other details are still in short supply: Fisker’s design inspiration sketch would seem to imply a crossover of some sort, a sensible choice given the skew of sales right now toward that category.

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