Digital development needs foresight in decision-making. At the crossroads of the pandemic portal, the twin transitions make acceleration and execution of novel forms of cross-stakeholder cooperation compulsory. These transitions require extraordinary partnerships including multi-lateral approaches beyond individual stakeholder needs. The pandemic portal has placed a premium on spectrum for fixed and mobile broadband. This demand is fuelled by increasing demand for broadband connectivity and ubiquitous mobility. Consequently, the search for more spectrum to facilitate broadband development is enlarging alongside a burgeoning interest in innovative ways to utilize available spectrum. One such way is the use of unassigned or underutilized spectrum or “white spaces”.

The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago sets out an Authorisation Framework for the Accommodation of White Space Radiocommunications Devices (November 2017). This framework outlines the technical and operational rules for the deployment of White Space Devices (WSDs). The framework states that it aims to shelter “incumbent services operating in bands that will be made available for WSD operations” and reassures likely users that a judiciously “planned and regulated environment” has been configured, (p.1). The framework is a subset of the National Spectrum Plan and regulates the efficient use of spectrum in an orderly manner, and draws upon the Caribbean Telecommunications Union report entitled, “TV White Space Management and Regulation Report” (CTU 2015).

In the monograph, “Rural Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, A bridge for Sustainable Development in a time of Pandemic”, (2020), authored by the IDB, IICA, and Microsoft, an invaluable contribution is made in quantifying the extent, and consequences of limited connectivity. The report states that “TV white spaces can expand connectivity in unattended and remote rural areas…(and)…unused TV channel frequencies…can enable rapid deployment of low-cost, long-range connectivity. TVWS is an option to provide direct connectivity to end-user devices or provide a backhaul link for Wi-Fi access points,” (p. 73).

While there are some challenges one advantage is that in remote settings TVWS solutions can be powered by solar power due to their low energy requirements. The use of lower frequencies allows the signal to reach locations in areas with mountainous terrain, torrential rainfall, and dense forest canopy. Low costs and good coverage allow providers to provide fast broadband at affordable rates and help to bridge the affordability barrier for digital inclusion.

According to ECLAC, the connectivity divide between urban and rural areas is large. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 67% of urban households are connected, against 23% of rural families. In Bolivia, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Peru, more than 90% of rural households have no internet connection. In Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, only about half of the rural households are connected. The divide generates distinct disadvantages which explain the lower level of well-being in rural communities, and the culture of persistent poverty. The problems of limited access to markets and productive resources like water, land and financing are exacerbated when poor connectivity and telecommunications isolate these populations from access to knowledge and innovation.

The Jamaica TVWS Pilot project deploys affordable broadband in rural Jamaica, by implementing broadband networks to extend connectivity to schools, clinics, and community centres. The pilot offers Jamaica’s rural residents access to educational resources, remote learning programs, and business optimization tools. The pilot supports economic empowerment by providing access to market information at community centres and reducing information asymmetries and gives access to responsive e-government service platforms.

In partnership with USAID Global Broadband and Innovations Program, and the Jamaica Universal Services Fund (USF), the pilot connects 31 sites across seven parishes. This involves nine base stations, nine health centres, seven libraries, six police stations, and seventeen schools. Each site has an Adaptrum radio and wireless access point for local connectivity. Nine towers spread across the seven parishes with existing broadband connectivity are being used to anchor the installation of additional antennae.

TVWS technology makes use of the radio frequency spectrum that was once assigned to television channels but is now being freed up following the switch from analogue to digital television. The unused TV channels between the active ones in the VHF and UHF spectrum are referred to as TV White Space. Normally they are referred to as the “buffer” channels. These buffers were placed between active TV channels to eliminate broadcasting interference. It is now known and proven that this unused spectrum can be used to provide broadband Internet access while operating harmoniously with surrounding TV channels.

Apart from connecting people, TV White Space is also capable of connecting things and can make a connected home or remote office a reality. It can offer a broadband signal capable of handling multiple devices supporting large amounts of data across long distances. TV White Space can also enable smart cities with connected home devices, sports stadiums, shopping centres, municipal areas, and many other public spaces. A traditional Wi-Fi router has a range of about 100 meters under perfect conditions, but can be disrupted by walls or other environmental barriers. On the other hand, TV White Space technology can cover a radius of about 10 kilometres. This technology is nicknamed “Super Wi-Fi” because of its superior range and ability to penetrate obstacles. Digital has now disrupted itself.