The University of Hawaii was uploaded by Govt. Ige to lead a large-scale strategic investment in robust and reliable broadband services that would benefit all residents of Hawaii. At least one in 10 state residents lack access to reliable, fast internet, creating a “digital divide” in Hawaii. An estimated 9.5% of residents do not have Internet access. Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (PDF), and FCC data reveals that 15.2% of residents do not have a broadband Internet subscription of any type.
The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the divide as more and more people have been forced to rely on the internet to access education, healthcare, and government resources and services.
uh will convene a working group on broadband with Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office in fall 2022 to determine the appropriate governance structure to operate, maintain and manage public broadband assets. The initiative called Apakau ka lā (scattering of the sun’s rays) was announced during the Governor’s State of the State address in January 2022. The Ige administration is tasked with investing at least $390 million available in various middle mile, last mile and digital equity projects to fund the ambitious effort, including $90 million from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program allocated to the Department of Native Hawaiian Lands to serve Native Hawaiians.
“The goal of this statewide initiative is to ensure that all Hawaii residents have access to the technology and training needed to thrive in the digital age,” said the project manager Garret Yoshimi, uh vice president of information technology and chief information officer. “Apakau ka lā will bridge the ‘digital divide’ by tackling the problem on multiple fronts.”
Projects that should be part of the effort include:
- New inter-island cables, submarines and landing stations to strengthen connections currently served by three aging cables
- Improve last mile connections in public libraries, social housing, community centers, etc. so that they have gigabit-class broadband service
- On-site digital literacy training
- Installation of terrestrial fiber in key routes to add resilience
- Installation of last mile connections in rural areas without current internet access
The timing of larger projects is yet to be determined as the governance model that will oversee the initiative is established, but work could begin as early as 2023.
A number of digital literacy training programs are already underway and were discussed in an online forum in June by uh to educate the public about statewide efforts to expand broadband services and digital literacy opportunities. Entitled “Broadband Infrastructure and Digital Equity: Building the Digital Foundations for Hawaii‘s Communities’, the forum provided information about ongoing programs, as well as opportunities for residents to get involved in the planning process. uh plans to hold more forums to raise awareness of this important initiative.
All forum materials, as well as a recording of the webinar, are available on the uh website.