We recently reported on the WhiteSpaces Pilot Project from the Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN). In order to find out the results in the trenches, we contacted two participant communities: Delta County, Colorado and Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The project connects libraries with vendors that supply equipment tapping into what has been television spectrum, or “white spaces.” A Wi-Fi signal travels farther on white space spectrum and can travel through obstacles such as buildings and trees.
The five libraries in the Delta County Libraries system serve a community of approximately 30,000 people. Most residents live on farms or in small towns scattered throughout the county. The libraries all offer free Wi-Fi and serve as places to socialize, connect, and hold community meetings. Library District staff installed the equipment in the library in Paonia, population 1,500.
TDS Telecom and Skybeam offer limited Internet access in the area, but many people do not live in the service areas or cannot afford the steep rates. John Gavan, IT Manager of the Libraries system, predicts that 90% of visits to the facilities focus on Internet access.
When the Delta County Library in Paonia closes down every night, the parking lot is usually filled with people tapping into the library’s free Wi-Fi. The GLN WhiteSpaces Pilot went live in Paonia in October 2013. The library’s Wi-Fi now sends a signal down the main street in town. They recently created a second hotspot to extend free Wi-Fi even farther. The community hopes to transmit the signal to a park located one mile from the library so summer festival vendors can to use the Wi-Fi for credit card transactions.
Gavan describes the technology as an easy set-up with minimal tech support from the vendor. The terrain in Delta County includes significant hills and trees. The ability to send the signal through obstacles is a major plus in Paonia, where the terrain can be challenging. As an IT Manager, he especially appreciates the ability to monitor and manage the white space network from any Internet connection.
The pilot project will run through 2013. Delta County Libraries will then have the option to purchase the equipment or to return it to the vendor. In Paonia, the equipment will cost approximately $5,800. According to Gavan, it is a small price to pay for the benefit the community receives from the technology.
Unfortunately, tough economic times have negatively impacted budgets in Paonia and Delta County. A proposed mill levy that would have paid for the equipment did not pass. One of the area’s major employers – a coal mining facility – announced it will soon be closing down. The loss of jobs will remove $400 million worth of income from the region and community leaders are understandably concerned. Gavan and the Delta County Libraries have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to keep the equipment. They realize access to the Internet will be even more crucial as people search for employment.
In Pascagoula, Mississippi, the School District is also a pilot project participant. In addition to extending the school’s Wi-Fi, the coastal community will explore public safety uses. Pascagoula was affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and community leaders are considering white space technology for disaster readiness preparation.
Pascagoula also plans to use the technology to replace a DSL connection to their Adult Learning Center. According to Toby Bradley, School District Network Administrator, the connection will triple the bandwidth and save approximately $200 per month in service charges. Bradley notes:
We approached the pilot a bit differently than the other applicants, in that we were looking at rapid and easy deployment for both permanent and portable connections at a variety of locations that we cannot justify permanent Internet connections to our fiber network or the high cost of leasing services from an ISP on a regular basis.
As time goes on, we will discover more sites, and expand our TVWS equipment inventory. It fills a niche between very expensive dedicated links, or expensive service contracts. We have also worked on simplifying setup and teardown, and we can have a remote site up and running in less than 10 minutes. Testing remote locations has allowed us to pre-program locations, sources of electrical power, antenna positioning, etc.
Badley describes the technology as promising but notes that performance levels are inconsistent. He sees a fair degree of trial and error as the community learns the limits of the technology.
For more on the GLN WhiteSpaces Pilot Project, listen to Christopher interview Don Means in Episode 79 of the Broadband Bits podcast.