Libraries may be hubs for the next round of white space broadband pilots


We’ve been following the progress of several pilots using TV White Space Broadband (TVWS). Essentially, TVWS is the use of vacant TV channel spectrum to transmit data, thus providing broadband to populations who don’t have access to high speed fiber connectivity. Big players like Google and Microsoft have made big bets on the spectrum with the help up Carlson Wireless which is providing the backhaul technology. In June, we interviewed Carlson Wireless President and CEO Jim Carlson about those efforts. Now, the Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN) has announced an open call for public libraries to join a national Super Wi-Fi pilot, relying on TVWS.

TVWS was first called Super Wi-Fi by former Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Julius Genachowski. The name isn’t totally accurate, but the concept he was getting at is close. CivSource spoke with Don Means, Gigabit Libraries Network coordinator about how this project might work in practice.

GLN is an open collaboration of libraries that work as a distributed testbed for high performance applications and equipment that benefit from big bandwidth. For this pilot, Means envisions that libraries can leverage their local white space channels to create remote high speed access networks.

“This has grown out of our existing broadband advocacy work,” Means says. “Roughly 80 million people access the internet at the library over the course of a year, for many of them it is their only means of access.”

TVWS has several advantages in that it can pass through walls, over challenging geographies, and can provide true redundancy to existing broadband networks. In addition, because the spectrum is unlicensed, anyone with equipment can access the network without additional fees or subscriptions. The FCC recently certified equipment like that offered by Carlson and deployments are already in the works.

Kansas City, Kansas recently announced a Super Wi-Fi pilot which will use libraries as base stations for TVWS equipment. Those libraries previously relied on aging and expensive T1 lines to provide services to patrons. According to Means, with some of these projects the distance between libraries is equivalent to the range of the radios needed, making them handy hubs. For larger areas, libraries and schools might be considered building on the anchor institution model of many early stage fiber network expansions.

Means hopes to use the Kansas City, Kansas pilot as a national model and hopes to have a handful of cities online before the end of the year. The pilot will examine how integrating these two wireless communication technologies can benefit library users by combining the near universal compatibility of Wi-Fi with the range and penetrating capabilities of Super Wi-Fi.

Each candidate city will have to check to see if TVWS is available in their area, some larger cities lack empty TV channels. From there, deployment times will vary depending on chosen base stations. “We’re trying to take a community approach to this so that libraries can share lessons learned and make the process easier for other cities,” Means said. To that end, interested libraries can fill out a form with GLN to join up.

Current supporting organizations include:
Adaptrum Inc.
Carlson Wireless
Open Technology Institute / New American Foundation
WhiteSpace Alliance
SHLB Coalition
Internet Archive
Public Knowledge
CTC Networks
Spoton Networks
Keener Law Group