In 2013, the Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN) launched a pilot program to provide TV White Space Broadband through public libraries. TV White Space broadband relies on vacant TV channel spectrum for data transfer, and can then extend broadband signal as far as TV signal. Then a year later, GLN released a nationwide coverage map showing all of the potential connection points for a TV white space network. Over the past year, that expansion work has continued, culminating in a federal grant which was awarded to GLN on Wednesday.
San Jose State University’s School of Information (iSchool) in partnership with GLN has been awarded a National Leadership Grant of nearly $250,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to expand the Libraries WhiteSpace Project.
The program will infuse selected libraries with $15,000 in funds as sub-grant awards to support five innovative implementations using TV white space wireless communications technology. These grants will be awarded in early 2017.
The project builds on the work funded by a grant in 2015 from the Knight Foundation to GLN in partnership with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) to build preliminary analysis and orientation tools for libraries interested in exploring the capabilities of license-free TVWS equipment to expand access to library services and other digital resources.
Participants in the second phase of the initiative will be asked to incorporate TVWS/Wi-Fi into community disaster planning as a redundant and potentially invaluable new communications resource. Each local project is expected to evaluate how new portable library Wi-Fi access points could be quickly redeployed to create pop-up hotspots at damaged areas in times of crisis.
Alongside the expansion of the physical network, a national consortium led by SJSU-iSchool and GLN, that also includes the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC), will work together to create new educational and awareness materials to get the word out about TV white space technology.
“Our project will further explore the role of libraries as community anchors promoting access and inclusion through strategic technology integration,” says project co-director Kristen Rebmann of SJSU. “There’s a nice intersection between what we’re implementing and the concept of community anchors, which has been used by IMLS to describe the role of libraries in providing civic engagement, cultural opportunities, and economic vitality to communities.”
TV white space is a fast growing area of broadband expansion. Because the connection is completed over essentially empty spectrum, the network does not have to rely on the economic concerns of third party service providers. TV channel spectrum can also broadcast over a considerably longer distance than traditional broadband networks. That extra distance could provide a way for rural areas or challenging geographies to have access to a voice/data connection.
Several big name tech companies including Google and Microsoft have run their own TV white space trials. The FCC has also approved Carlson Wireless’ RuralConnect TV white space (TVWS) radio system for use with the Spectrum Bridge TV white spaces database, which is the world’s first affordable long-distance, non-line-of-site (NLOS) fixed wireless broadband system.