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DHHL to Offer Its Own Internet

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

With Molokai homesteaders struggling with faulty internet service under Sandwich Isles Communication, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands is poised to deliver its own internet to homestead communities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved applications for DHHL to bring wireless broadband to Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Kauai, which is anticipated to be operational by 2022.

Slow internet has been plaguing Molokai homesteaders for some time but has been exacerbated by the pandemic, as students attempt to study remotely, employees work from home and small business owners bolster their online marketplaces.

“Anger, frustration, you can’t even get through to a live body to talk about what the situation is, or negotiations of how they can have their bills paid, or you can transfer over to another carrier,” Rep. Lynn DeCoite told Hawaii Public Radio about the troubles with Sandwich Isles.

In 1995, Sandwich Isles received an exclusive license with DHHL to bring services to rural, homestead communities and any other company wanting to bring in internet services to those areas must use Sandwich Isles’ infrastructure — a deal that’s hurt Ho’olehua residents.

Things went downhill five years ago, when Sandwich Isles’ founder Al Hee was convicted of federal tax fraud and given prison time. The company now faces possible financial demise when it was stripped of $257 million in assets and Hee must pay almost $50 million in fines.

Regardless of the future of Sandwich Isles, DHHL’s move to bring its own internet to Ho’olehua is anticipated to improve residents’ service.

“We are pleased that the FCC has granted us these licenses,” said DHHL Deputy to the Chairman Tyler Gomes. “The Department will begin work immediately to procure funding and begin work to build out the infrastructure needed to broadcast wireless broadband across the spectrum.”

DHHL has two years from the date the licenses were granted to submit evidence that the Department is providing service coverage to 50 percent of the population in the license areas. Five years after the license is granted, DHHL must show they are providing service coverage to 80 percent of the population. Only federally recognized Tribes or Alaska Native Villages could apply for spectrum in the Rural Tribal Priority Window, through which the approval was granted.

“This news means that people can expect faster and more reliable internet service,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, who serves on the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, the Internet and Innovation. “We all know how important internet access has become during this pandemic as we try work or go to school from home so this is good news.”

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