Reaching the Rest of Us: Public Libraries Using TV WhiteSpace to Connect Next Billion(s)

Posted by Don Means on January 12, 2017 at 8:15 AM

In the context of the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), the World Bank/IMF, in partnership with the United States State Department, launched the Global Connect Initiative (GCI) in October 2015 with the goal of bringing the next 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

At the recently concluded Internet Governance Forum(IGF) in Guadalajara, the notion of the world’s 320,000 libraries as key players in bringing online the billions of yet-connected people gained a new level of acceptance as these trusted institutions are generally flexible to play many crucial support roles related to ICT access.

Even before the IGF, a consensus approach had been emerging that libraries, offering low/no-fee basic access "entry points” with added training and support services, optimize chances for successful new user adoption.  A conclusion reached in the 2013 Global Impact Study comparing the effectiveness of libraries, telecenters and internet cafes as public access venues.

One typical story comes from Kenya where a public library in the Nanyuki District acquired its first connection early this year, using TV WhiteSpace (TVWS) to enable it as a community access hub. Traffic to the library has steadily increased since, not only in terms of Internet access but also as patrons discover the many other valuable library services available.

TVWS, as a new form of WiFi, is an open public wireless capability utilizing unused spectrum in the old analog TV broadcast bands. The long range and non-line-of-sight characteristics of TVWS can quickly and inexpensively extend the reach of any network, making it ideal for rural areas especially where an abundance of unused spectrum awaits.

In the US, public libraries have begun exploring the potential of TVWS to extend library WiFi into new places across their communities. Parks, playgrounds, senior centers, shelters, and other locations where connectivity is needed, yet a challenge to provide. The Manhattan, Kansas Public Library has partnered with the city Parks Department to install hotspots at the public swimming pool and the community ice rink to easily create an attractive new library-provided amenity for these popular spaces.

Public libraries, using TVWS to create or extend public access in their communities, offer the most economical and most equitable way to bring the greatest number of new users into the global digital conversation. Soonest!

Don Means

Director, Libraries WhiteSpace Project

Gigabit Libraries Network