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Oceanic Internet Upgrade

Oceanic Time Warner Cable broadband Internet customers on Molokai have waited for years, filed dozens of complaints and wrung their hands in frustration as hundreds streaming Netflix movies failed to load — all because of Internet speeds many called substandard. Finally, the wait is over and YouTube videos can buffer in an instant. Last week, Oceanic upgraded Molokai service from microwave technology to fiber optic — effectively doubling Internet speeds to its approximately 1,000 island customers, according to Oceanic President Bob Barlow.

Last week, Oceanic notified its Molokai customers of the upgrade through an automated telephone message. Barlow said no interruption in service occurred, and despite their preparation for potential technical issues, none were experienced.

“Nobody even knew it happened,” said Barlow. “When you go home tonight [last Thursday], you’ll just have a little higher speeds.”

Those speeds, he said, went from 5 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed to 10 Mbps. The upgrade means Molokai customers are now receiving RoadRunner — the same service offered on Oahu — whereas before they got WAVE, though at same price charged to RoadRunner customers.

For Kawela customer Doug Beijer, who has lobbied for the upgrade for several years, it’s no cause for celebration.

“I can’t get thrilled about finally getting what I should have been getting all along,” he said. “It’s something that they should have done years ago. I just don’t feel I’m getting ripped off quite as bad.”

Barlow admits Molokai’s speeds are still slower than on Oahu, but it’s still a big improvement.

The way Beijer puts it, Oahu is getting 15 Mbps so “now instead of getting 10 percent of what we’re paying for, we’re getting 75 percent.”

New Email Addresses
While the change may have been seamless for many, Barlow said the upgrade will require upcoming action on the part of some customers.

“The downside is everyone will have to change their email addresses,” he explained.

The change will affect those Oceanic customers who use a Wave address. Barlow said the first part of the email address should remain the same, but instead of being “@wave.hicv.net,” addresses will switch to “@hawaii.rr.com.” He said the change is nothing urgent — customers will receive a notice in the mail instructing them how to make the change. Until then, he said, the existing email address will continue to work.

But not all Molokai customers have found the transition to go smoothly. One customer who lives just east of Kaunakakai said her Wave email was able to receive but not send emails after the upgrade. She called Oceanic and a representative gave her her new RoadRunner address already.

The same customer also said she experienced trouble connecting to the Internet after the upgrade. An automated message on Oceanic’s service line, she said, instructed Molokai customers to unplug and replug their modem, which she said fixed the problem.

“I just wish there had been more transparency,” she said of Oceanic’s upgrade. “Customers received no letter explaining the changes.”

Challenges of Rural Service
When Barlow spoke with the Dispatch last August about Oceanic Internet upgrades, he promised Molokai would receive increased speeds through microwave technology by the end of 2012, and an upgrade to fiber optic shortly after that.

Those estimates, it turns out, were inaccurate. Oceanic already had fiber optic technology on Molokai, but not to Molokai. Before the upgrade, a microwave signal was transported to Molokai from Maui, then delivered to homes through on-island fiber optic lines and coaxial cables. Barlow said last week that the company was able to negotiate a lease agreement with a company that already had undersea fiber lines running to Molokai and connect to Oceanic’s existing on-island fiber.

“We were scrambling just to get the fiber deal done,” he said. And because the agreement was nearing completion, Oceanic decided not to do the intermediate microwave upgrade.

“What tends to happen in Hawaii and across the country is that rural areas have no or low levels of connectivity,” said Keali`i Lopez, director of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA). Broadband Internet, she said, is federally regulated, but even though the state has little authority over Broadband service providers, the DCCA is still doing what it can to improve Internet across the state.

Lopez said there are several challenges for Broadband providers to serve rural areas.

“The cost is high because it’s spread across small subscriber base,” she said of places like Molokai.

Lopez said the DCCA is working at the federal level to allocate more funds for Hawaii Broadband providers like Oceanic to better serve rural communities.

The state Broadband Assistance Advisory Council works on a variety of angles, including funding, permitting — to ease the process providers go through to get easements for access points — as well as adoption, or how residents and businesses can best utilize Broadband technology, Lopez said.

Even though the state can’t regulate the level of service providers offer, “we’re saying the state should pay attention and look at the ways at the state level that we can remove or limit barriers for access to rural areas,” said Lopez.

Benefits of High Speed
Lopez described the potential provided by higher speed Internet as “phenomenal,” giving Molokai residents access to resources that weren’t available to them before. Those benefits can be seen among students able to research projects faster, small businesses utilizing Broadband for worldwide distribution of their services, and Molokai residents having better access to government participation.

“Broadband is the Internet superhighway,” she said. “It needs to be looked at as an infrastructure.”

Barlow said even better Internet is on the way for Molokai. He said the company’s goal is to bring Hana and Lanai up to RoadRunner speeds, then they will refocus their attention back to Molokai.

“Within the next year, hopefully shorter, the real fast speeds will be available on Molokai,” he said. That upgrade will also require new modems to be installed for customers in order for them to access the higher speeds.

Until then, Molokai customers are finally closer to 21st century Internet speeds.


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