TV White Space (TVWS) refers to the unused, license-free radio frequencies in the TV broadcast bands. By deploying TVWS, libraries can provide additional wifi access in places like parks, shelters, community centers, and anywhere else the community may benefit from hotspot locations. If you’re new to TV White Space, check out the Gigabit Libraries Network’s introductory video and FAQ page.

I’m happy to report that the Library Development department of the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, has codified a number of digital inclusion priorities in the LSTA 5-Year Plan for 2018-2022 and has dedicated resources to continue digital inclusion activities for the remainder of FY17, including creating a new position for me as a Technology Outreach Specialist. We can credit participation in NDIA’s Digital Inclusion Corps as a catalyst for the State Library’s continued work to address digital inequity in the state. One project that I am working on in this new position is to manage a pilot TVWS project at two library sites. While this project is technically not an activity of the Digital Inclusion Corps, I wish to briefly discuss our experience so far in the early planning stages for the edification of the NDIA community.

Digital inclusion initiatives must target the most disadvantaged groups.  From NDIA’s own definition of digital inclusion, this means employing “intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.” With this framework, we’ve begun identifying and prioritizing potential pilot library sites by weighing capacity and structural considerations for successful implementation.

Capacity considerations

We identified high priority libraries based on unemployment rate and school lunch participation using the annual library statistics collected by the State Library. This allows us to target areas where innovative connectivity solutions may have meaningful impact. However, as we continued to review the data, we were troubled by the fact that four of these priority-list libraries do not currently meet the minimum broadband speed 20 Mbps or more needed to deploy TVWS.  The FCC’s definition of broadband is 25/3 Mbps, which means that not only are some of our Arizona libraries unable to capitalize on the benefits of participating in a TVWS project, but the library—which is often the only free source of Internet access in the community— cannot provide their users with equitable service akin to any given gigabit urban library. These libraries technically provide access, but improved quality of service—in this case, robust broadband—is needed.

An additional capacity constraint is that this pilot project is funded by our LSTA FY17 budget, which stipulates that all funds must be spent and activities completed by September 30, 2018. We hope to move forward with the pilot as quickly as possible as it will take time to initialize and measure results before the end of FY17. Because of the limited time available to complete the project, we considered the potential for local library staff to act quickly and enthusiastically in testing this technology, as informed by previous successful working relationships with the State Library, in developing our list of pilot sites.

Structural considerations

Many libraries participate in USAC’s Schools and Libraries Program, more commonly known as E-rate, which provides reimbursement for data transmission (Internet) and voice services. There are a number of real and perceived barriers to E-rate participation that I will write about in the coming weeks, but one structural barrier is that the guidance is unclear regarding E-rate eligibility of TVWS. According to the current E-rate rules, TVWS qualifies as an eligible service if it is used between eligible entities (i.e. a main library transmitting service to a branch library), but TVWS is not considered an eligible service when an eligible entity deploys the service off-campus (i.e. a branch library transmitting service to a public park or low-income housing).  The question of whether off-campus use of TVWS will become an eligible service is currently pending before the FCC. Rather than ask libraries which currently apply for E-rate to consider providing an ineligible service, we worked with the E-rate Administrator for the State Library to refine our list of potential pilot sites based on libraries which do not currently apply for E-rate.