Tribal Connectivity via TV Whitespace


Published: November 6, 2019 by Dr. Kristen R. Rebmann

In 2014, the Association of Tribal Archives, Museums and Libraries prepared a report, Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries, which discusses the challenges Tribal Libraries face in bringing basic broadband access to their citizens in addition to creating public spaces that provide Wi-Fi connections. The report illustrates how Tribal Libraries play a critical role as community anchor institutions (CAIs) in providing their community members with access to the internet (ATALM, 2014). The FCC defines Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) “as schools, libraries, hospitals and other medical providers, public safety entities, institutions of higher education, and community support organizations that facilitate greater use of broadband by vulnerable populations, including low-income, the unemployed, and the aged” (FCC, 2011, p. 38). TV Whitespace (TVWS) represents an emerging, low-cost wireless technology that has the potential of expanding Tribal Libraries’ ability to extend their Wi-Fi signals beyond the building and beyond library hours to public spaces such as subsidized housing, schools, clinics, museums, senior centers, and other CAIs (Rebmann, Te, & Means, 2017). As part of their role as CAIs, Tribal libraries can leverage TVWS to provide convenient WiFi access for the community in new places never before served. Parks, shelters, playgrounds, senior centers, and post offices are just a few places that can serve as candidates for new library hotspot locations.

In 2018, I and several research partners received an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant in the amount of $249,882 to address challenges associated with Native American digital access and inclusion through a four-part work plan involving professional development, technology implementation via a subaward program, evaluation research, and model development/dissemination. The project is structured with a lead project director, four project partners, and three Tribal library partners:  Dr. Kristen Rebmann of San Jose State University’s School of Information (SJSU-iSchool), Alana McGrattan of the Tribal Libraries Program of the New Mexico State Library (TLP-NMSL), Gar Clarke (Tribal Liaison) of the New Mexico State Department of Information Technology Office of Broadband & Geospatial Initiatives (DoIT/OBGI), Donald Means of Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN), and Dr. Elizabeth Belding of University of California, Santa Barbara’s Department of Computer Science (UCSB-CS).   The project is currently collaborating with tribal Libraries across New Mexico (Mescalero and Torreon have joined the project with one additional site to be identified.  Our next step is to design and install a total of 3 TV Whitespace (TVWS) networks in the sovereign nations of New Mexico.


Federal Communications Commission (2011). In the Matter of Connect America Fund, WC Docket No. 10-90, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  FCC 11-161, (November, 18, 2011), 1-18,414. Retrieved from

Jorgensen, M., Morris, T., & Feller, S. (2014). Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries. Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, 1-60. Retrieved from:                 

Rebmann, K. R. & Means, D. (2017) Access, Inclusion, and Disaster Planning via TV Whitespace Technology. Session presented at the 2017 Pacific Northwest Library Association in Post Falls, Idaho [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from

Rebmann, K.R., Means, D., and Te, E.E., (2017) TV Whitepaces for Libraries: A Primer.  Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL), 36(1), 35-45.


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