Oceanic to Upgrade Molokai Broadband

For years, Molokai has experienced some of the slowest broadband Internet service in the state, provided by Oceanic Time Warner Cable. For customers who struggle to stream Netflix movies or wrestle with buffering YouTube videos, good news may be on the way.

Oceanic’s cable television and broadband signals are currently sent to Molokai via microwave technology. Because Oceanic uses microwave to carry both TV and Internet signals, there is a lot of competition for bandwidth, causing slower speeds. But Oceanic President Bob Barlow said that will be changing soon.

“We are updating microwave to both Molokai and Lanai and that will remedy some of the issues that we’ve been having,” said Barlow. “I’m confident they’ll be done by the end of the year.”

The upgrade will double current download speeds for Molokai customers, according to Barlow. But to match the broadband service provided on other islands, he said Oceanic will have to get a fiber optic cable to Molokai. And that, he predicts, will happen within the next six months.

How it Works
While other islands get TV and broadband through a fiber optic cable, Molokai and Lanai are the only islands Oceanic doesn’t currently serve with that technology, said Barlow. Signals travel interisland via a fiber cable laid on the ocean floor, and allows much faster Internet speeds over microwave technology, which doesn’t use a physical cable.

“We have fiber optics on Molokai, but not to Molokai,” explained Barlow. Currently, once the microwave signal is transported to Molokai from Maui, it is delivered to homes through on-island fiber optic lines and coaxial cables.

The result is service that has caused many Molokai customers to complain. Kawela resident Douglas Beijer calls Oceanic’s “substandard” service a rip-off.

“The only thing the Molokai WAVE service has in common with the RoadRunner service on other islands is monthly cost,” he said. While Molokai customers pay the same $49.95 as Oahu residents, they get half the speed provided to RoadRunner customers: 5 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed versus 10 Mbps, according to Beijer.

“That makes me mad,” he said. Beijer has taken it upon himself to publicize the issue by complaining to Oceanic, state and county representatives and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA). He also circulated a petition earlier this year during a three-week period that garnered 60 signatures of frustrated fellow Oceanic customers.

What’s Being Done
One official who has taken note of Molokai’s poor broadband service is the administrator of the DCCA’s Cable Television Division, Donn Yabusaki. He said federal law restricts the state from regulating broadband service, and it is only controlled federally through benchmark speeds rather than specific requirements for providers.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re totally powerless,” said Yabusaki. Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie launched the Hawaii Broadband Initiative, which seeks to ensure affordable, high-speed Internet for the entire state. In order to pursue that initiative, the state needs a better picture of existing service, Yabusaki said. The DCCA has launched a mapping project to track broadband availability, identifying marginal or no-service areas throughout Hawaii.

“When we started this project, no one had gone out to do a controlled study to measure performance,” said Yabusaki. “There had been surveys, but we’ve established a website to help us collect data.”

Yabusaki encourages residents to visit the website, hawaiispeedtest.net, multiple times at different periods of the day, to accurately track their broadband service.

“This is especially important for neighbor islands and rural areas — they have the most to gain from this effort,” he said.

With the data, Yabusaki said the DCCA may be able to work with broadband providers to improve service. It could also be used as compelling evidence to obtain funding to upgrade infrastructure, he added.

Oceanic Time Warner Cable is seeking to renew its franchise agreement in Maui County to provide cable television services. As part of this process, the DCCA is holding to gather community input on Oceanic’s service. Yabusaki said while the meetings are focused TV, he also wants to hear about any concerns or suggestions for all Oceanic services, including broadband. The Molokai meeting will be held Aug. 27 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Kulana `Oiwi in the DHHL/OHA conference room.


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