Initiative Aims to Bring High-Speed Internet for All
By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor
Four-hundred million. That’s the amount of money coming from the federal government to the state of Hawaii to support broadband infrastructure and access. Right now, Molokai has an opportunity to utilize this funding, possibly bringing fast, reliable internet to every resident who wants it.
“The directive of this program is to connect every resident and to make sure that every resident, regardless if you live off or on the grid, has access to high-speed internet,” explained Sara Lin, the broadband initiative communication specialist for the University of Hawaii. UH has been given the task of leading the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
According to Lin, the best way to achieve this goal is by offering all residents the option of fiber-optic, wired internet if they want it. This means connecting all populated areas of Molokai with broadband infrastructure capable of delivering the internet at high speed.
Lin acknowledged that for people who live off the grid, it could be more challenging to deliver fiberoptics to their homes. If this is the case, Lin explained that satellite internet could also be an option to consider.
The BEAD program will not pay for residents’ internet subscriptions, but rather is intended to “remove the barrier to them subscribing,” she explained.
The initiative is part of the Hawaii Digital Equity Plan, a roadmap for digital equity access across the state for the next five years. The plan, which is working in coordination with BEAD, seeks to address the digital divide for those who do not have reliable, affordable access to devices such as laptops and computers, the training to use them, as well as internet access.
Lin and her team were on Molokai on Oct. 19 for a meeting with the community at the Molokai Public Library.
Lin urged Molokai community members to give feedback on the status of internet availability at their homes.
“The most important thing that Molokai residents can do right now is go to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband map, check if they are on there and check if they are accurately represented on there,” said Lin. The map can be found at broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home.
This map grades addresses based on availability and quality of current internet service. Lin explained that if residents’ homes are not on the map yet or mapped incorrectly, it is crucial to correct them as soon as possible.
To mark a change on the map, residents must put a pin down on their location and then file for a challenge on the location.
“We understand that this might be a little complex…we’re brainstorming ideas,” said Lin. One idea she pitched was hiring local students to help residents mark themselves accurately on the FCC broadband map.
Lin also explained that her team is looking at community gathering places where internet access can be improved or established.
The internet has become the access point for many facets of economy, health care, and even government, she explained.
“Imagine the time, effort and money that can be saved if someone doesn’t have to fly to another island every time they need a checkup,” said Lin.
Through the Hawaii Digital Equity Plan, residents can get a sense of the state’s strategy for opening gateways to digital education and bridging the current digital divide. These ideas include targeting certain “covered populations,” groups like kupuna, people with disabilities and rural residents that might have less inherent internet education.
“How do you equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to be successful with digital technologies?” asked Burt Lum, state digital equity coordinator.
The Hawaii Digital Equity Plan is available for public comment until Oct. 31. The BEAD program will open its comment period on Nov. 1 and run for 30 days.
Right now, the most important step for Molokai residents is to make sure they are accurately mapped on the FCC broadband map before the end of December.
“We want you on the map,” said Lin.
Molokai residents with comments or questions on the digital equity plan can reach out to (808) 587-9001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on the BEAD program can be accessed via the UH Broadband for Hawaii website at hawaii.edu/broadband/.