Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

TV White Spaces in Public Libraries: A Primer

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

TV White Spaces in Public Libraries: A Primer

Article excerpt


Tens of millions of people rely wholly or in part on libraries to provide access to the Internet. Many lack access to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommended standard of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. (1) Though the FCC reclassified high-speed Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act to ensure that broadband networks are "fast, fair, and open" in 2015, (2) the "digital divide" still remains. One in four community members does not have access to the Internet at home. Accounting for age and education level, households with the lowest median income households have service adoption rates of around 50%, compared to those with higher incomes, with rates of 80 to 90%. (3) A recent Pew Research Center survey on home broadband adoption found that 43% of those surveyed reported cost being their main reason for non-adoption. (4) Individuals with low quality or no access are more likely to be digitally disadvantaged, tend to use library computers more frequently, and are less equipped to interact and compete economically as more services and application processes move online. (5)

This article highlights TV White Space (TVWS), a new wireless communication technology with the potential to assist libraries in addressing digital access and inclusion issues. This primer provides first a brief overview of the digital divide and the emerging role of public libraries as internet access providers, highlighting the need for cost-efficient, technological solutions. We go further to provide a basic description of TVWS and its features, focusing on key aspects of the technology relevant to libraries as community anchor institutions. Several TVWS implementations are described with discussion of how TVWS was set up in several public libraries. Finally, we extend consideration to first steps library organizations must consider when contemplating new implementations including everyday applications and crisis response planning.

Digital Access and Inclusion

The term "digital divide" describes the gap between people who can easily access and use technology and the internet, and those who cannot. (6) As Kinney observes, "there has not been one single digital divide, but rather a series of divides that attend each new technology." (7) Digital divides are exacerbated by various factors including: socioeconomic status, education, geography, age, ability, language, and especially availability and quality. (8) In recent years, the language describing this issue has changed, but the inequalities stay consistent and widen among different dimensions with each emerging technology. The most recent public policy term "digital inclusion" promotes digital literacy efforts for unserved and underserved populations. (9) The progression from the term "digital divide" to "digital inclusion" represents a shift in focus from issues of access exclusively toward contexts and quality of participation and usage. Along these lines, the language of digital inclusion reframes the issue by making visible that simply focusing on internet access can obscure the fact that divides associated with quality and effectiveness remain. (10)

In response to the digital divide, public libraries have become the "unofficial" providers of internet access, stemming from libraries' access to broadband infrastructure, maintenance of publicly-available computers, and services providing assistance and training. (11) A Pew Research Center survey on perceptions of libraries found that most respondents reported viewing public libraries as important parts of their communities, providing resources and assisting in decisions regarding what information to trust. (12) However, many public libraries are facing an "infrastructure plateau" of internet access due to few computer workstations and slower broadband connection speeds that can support a growing number of users, (13) on top of insufficient funding, physical space, and staffing. …

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