WhiteSpace Pilot Issues Open Call to Libraries

  • Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN)
CHICAGO — Libraries and their communities are being asked to join a national pilot to evaluate new regional scale wireless networks using license-­free TV band frequencies, called TV white spaces or TVWS. These wide-area networks will be installed and tested for their value in supporting disaster preparedness and in daily service of community, civic, educational, economic, cultural and health goals.

Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN) in partnership with Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) announced the open call after the project was named a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries, which awarded a total of $3 million to 22 ideas that provide new tools and approaches to leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities. The challenge is a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which promotes more informed and engaged communities.

Seeking Innovative Uses for TVWS Equipment in Combination with Wi-Fi
Project leaders are seeking libraries, schools, health clinics and other interested community anchor institutions to collaborate in running local pilot projects as part of a national Rield test to explore and develop innovative uses for TVWS equipment in combination with Wi-Fi to support remote Rixed and portable library hotspots at new locations in their communities. The project will also develop “learning tools” to help smooth analysis and adoption by participants.

According to John Gavan of Delta County, CO Public Library, "Our district has been operating a TVWS system supporting two hotspots in the town of Paonia, CO for over a year now. The technology was easy to set up; works extremely well and requires little support. It just runs day in and day out. We used TVWS to support our local festivals, town park events and even a music simulcast with our local radio station. We typically have over 200 associations a day and move an average of 2.5 GB of data a day over the network. It has been transformational for our little town.”

DIY Communications Infrastructure
Like Wi-­Fi, TVWS radios use free public spectrum, requiring no third party carriers, fees, licenses or other permissions to use for digital communication. But unlike Wi-Fi, TVWS has long range and penetrative capabilities that can support broadband connections over miles and through obstructions like trees and buildings. Combining these two license-­free wireless technologies creates wide area (in-house) networks as DIY communications infrastructure.

"We're excited about the opportunity for libraries to lead a national test of what appears to be a powerful new communications technology. With this support from Knight Foundation, established community anchors – libraries – will increase their knowledge, share experience, and expand partnerships to further deploy and evaluate the capabilities and limits of TVWS utilization, adding greatly to the body of knowledge based in practical experience,” notes COSLA Executive Director, Timothy Cherubini.

Creating TVWS-­enabled Satellite Library Wi-­Fi Hotspots
The project builds on trials started in 2013 testing these systems for their usability and potential to serve libraries and schools in creative ways. Setting up new TVWS-­enabled "satellite" library Wi-­Fi hotspots can exponentially expand availability and convenience for the some 80 million people who rely entirely or partly on libraries for Internet access. Until now, these people are required to be in or just beside a library in order to gain access.

“It’s difficult to imagine any town, much less an aspiring smart city, not wanting to become knowledgeable about the capabilities and limits of a new free and open spectrum communications resource to increase community security and to enhance delivery of public services,” says GLN Director, Don Means. “If TVWS has even 10 percent of the impact of Wi-Fi, that will be a very big deal.”

Incorporating TVWS/Wi-­Fi into Community Disaster Planning
Library facilities have shown to be effective resources during disaster, and almost uniquely in providing access to information and communications technologies (ICT’s). Participants in the Phase Two initiative are being 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, as portable library Wi-­Fi access points, these units could be quickly redeployed, with backup power, to create pop-­‐up hotspots at damaged areas in times of crisis.

“The reality is that after a catastrophic event, the public communications infrastructure WILL be down for two to five days on average, and the community will need temporary connectivity until the public utilities are restored,” says Joe Hillis, Operations Director, Information Technology Disaster Resource Center. “A TVWS network can help bridge the communications gap by allowing temporary Internet hotspots to be deployed around the community at much greater distances than traditional Wi-Fi currently allows.”

Currently US-centric, the Libraries WhiteSpace pilot has begun to attract interest internationally as a cost effective strategy to provide accessible broadband to an estimated 4.4 billion people without Internet. “The prospects for TVWS to play a key role in helping connect the next 4 billion people cannot be overstated. Except for perhaps Wi-Fi itself, no wireless data communications technology has offered so much capability at so little cost. Who better and more trusted than the world's 320,000 libraries as intermediate end points in telecom infrastructure buildout, to act as test lab and access hub in communities everywhere. The impact of this in America and the rest of the world is incalculable!” said H. Nwana, executive director, dynamic spectrum alliance and former group director for spectrum at UK regulator, Ofcom.

The project will also encourage participants to adopt an iterative prototyping approach towards discovering the widest array of uses and benefits for these new communications tools. Experimenting with these tools is an important focus of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries.

The Evolving Role of Libraries

“There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs, ”said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation. “The winners are working to reinvent the ways in which people experience the library and providing citizens with the tools and information they require to contriubte and strengthen our democracy."

Parties wishing to learn more are asked to register an "Initial Statement of Interest" in the WhiteSpace Pilot at www.GigLibraries.net for new information as the project unfolds in the weeks ahead.

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