Keiki to Kupuna, All Hawaiʻi's Residents Need Broadband

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, May 5, 2023

Weekly Digest

Keiki to Kupuna, All Hawaiʻi's Residents Need Broadband

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of May 1-5, 2023

Kevin Taglang

In Hawaiʻi, Broadband for A.L.L. means Access, Literacy, Livelihood

The Aloha State was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic's stay-at-home/work-from-home orders. The immediate halt to most in-person interaction resulted in disruptions to business, education, healthcare, the provision of other essential services, and social functions—demonstrating Hawaiʻi’s vulnerabilities, which were exacerbated by inadequate digital infrastructure. As a result, providing equitable access to broadband, improving digital literacy, and effectively applying digital tools in essential sectors are now among the state’s most pressing challenges.  

The Broadband Hui, a cross-section of some 500 public and private stakeholders, is working to achieve digital equity in the state. “The Broadband Hui has helped galvanize the community voice,” said Burt Lum, the State Broadband Coordinator of the Hawaiʻi Broadband and Digital Equity Office. “What the pandemic helped everyone realize is that we’ve got to have the internet connection, the hardware, the digital literacy, and the know-how to be full participants. If you don’t have ‘digital equity,’ you’re still not there.”

Hawaiʻi's universal broadband efforts date back to at least 2007 when the state legislature passed Act 2 of the First Special Session of 2007, a law establishing the Hawaiʻi Broadband Task Force. The primary purpose of the task force, which disbanded by 2009, was to 1) remove the barriers to broadband access, including gaining wider access to public rights-of-way; 2) identify opportunities for increased broadband development and adoption, including very high-speed broadband services; and 3) enable the creation and development of new advanced communication technologies in Hawai'i. Among the members of the task force was then-State Senator David Ige (D-HI) who would serve as Governor from 2014 to 2022. 

On July 30, 2022, Gov. Ige signed four key bills:

  • SB2076 requires the University of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiʻi Broadband and Digital Equity Office to provide internet access to all Hawaiʻi residents.
  • SB2479 requires all new public housing projects and state low-income housing projects to include broadband infrastructure for tenants.
  • SB2184 requires the Department of Education will establish a Digital Learning Center within the department. The center will expand computer classes and IT services to Hawaiʻi public schools.
  • SB2214 requires public libraries to offer digital navigator programs and give free access to computer classes. Activities will be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The Digital Divide in Hawaiʻi

According to 2019 American Community Survey data:

  • 55,000 households in Hawaiʻi (roughly 11.8% of all households in the state) do not have an internet subscription
  • 44,198 households (roughly 9.5%) have no internet access at all
  • 7% of households have no computer
  • 19.2% of households with an annual income less than $75,000 have no internet subscription
  • 8.7% of Native Hawaiʻian and other Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) are without an internet subscription (compared to 4.6% of Hawai‘i’s total population)
  • 8.2% of NHPIs have no computer in their household (compared to 4% of Hawaiʻi’s total population).
  • 11.6% of individuals 65 years and older have no computer in their household.
  • 10.1% of individuals with educational attainment of less than a high school diploma or equivalent have an internet subscription (compared to 4.6% for Hawaiʻi’s total population)
  • 14.2% of individuals in the same group have no computer in their household (compared to 4% of Hawai‘i’s total population)

According to a University of Hawaiʻi study, only 20.5% of Hawai‘i healthcare providers adopted telehealth prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Since the COVID outbreak, large health systems in the state have had a 50-80% increase in telehealth. 

According to Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE) surveys, 83 percent of secondary students surveyed said they had a home computer they could use for distance learning, while 71 percent said there were sufficient devices in their household per family member to use. Half the students surveyed said they had “quite reliable” internet access. About 22 percent of students surveyed said they participated in distance learning through paper packets, while 83 percent said they did so through online delivery. Furthermore, as shared by the HIDOE in an October 2022 information briefing, in quarter one of the 2020-2021 school year, 9 out of 10 students were learning through distance learning (blended or full-virtual).

In a summary of results, HIDOE noted that fewer Native Hawaiʻian and Pacific Islander students said there were enough devices in their household for each family member to use compared with the student survey results in total. A higher percentage of students from those communities said they were given a school-issued device than students overall. 

Hawaiʻi's Broadband Plan and the Digital Equity Declaration

Hawai‘i first adopted a broadband plan in 2012 but in 2020 took a fresh look at ways to strengthen the state's broadband infrastructure and programs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hawai‘i Broadband Strategic Plan set four goals, each with their own objectives:

I. Ensure Robust Broadband Infrastructure to All Hawaiʻi Residents

1. Advance policies, programs and initiatives for public and/or private investment in broadband infrastructure

  • Identify and map specific infrastructure of rural communities across the State to determine a more accurate understanding of need
  • Reduce the costs and delays associated with permitting, regulatory, and acquisition processes
  • Create incentives and leverage public assets including rights of way, antenna siting, easements, and joint pole agreements to attract infrastructure development for new technology operations and applications

2. Foster public/private partnerships to develop broadband infrastructure

  • Identify opportunities and timing for joint development of new fiber facilities and other critical broadband infrastructure
  • Seek federal and other opportunities for funding broadband infrastructure
  • Continue to work with the First Responder Network Authority to efficiently utilize the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network for use by local first responders and public safety agencies
  • Leverage utility infrastructure for extending connectivity to underserved or unserved areas

3. Increase transpacific submarine fiber connectivity

  • Aggressively promote and create incentives for the landing of transpacific submarine fiber optic cables
  • Create carrier-neutral, shared-access, fiber-ready submarine cable landing stations on each of the major islands to induce additional submarine fiber cable projects to the state

4. Secure broadband access sites on each island

  • Make 10-gigabit symmetric services available on each island at designated research centers and at technology development and commercialization centers
  • Create broadband improvement zones on each island with access to broadband services
  • Coordinate infrastructure projects between the public and private sectors to create areas for deployment of broadband zones for businesses
  • Attract open-access landing stations to support bringing the capacity ashore
  • Leverage existing state network assets especially research and education networks and public safety for all community anchors
  • Foster inter-island connectivity to support the in-state distribution of capacity, including resilience in this layer
  • Create fully redundant and resilient fiber optic infrastructure and fiber rings on each island
  • Plan and develop dedicated network connections for every public facility and community anchor institution that could serve as a disaster response or recovery facility

II. Expand Digital Inclusion and Adoption to Achieve Digital Equity

1. Identify and remove barriers to access and adoption to unserved and underserved

  • Create a Broadband and Digital Equity Office in the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism to pursue the economic objectives and realize the opportunities of broadband
  • Collaborate across state departments and agencies to advance broadband objectives
  • Coordinate with the Hawaiʻi Broadband Hui on addressing economic development challenges and opportunities for broadband
  • Publicize Hawaiʻi’s broadband capabilities and related assets to attract development, projects, and investment
  • Secure demonstration projects that build on Hawaiʻi’s broadband infrastructure
  • Assist broadband projects with navigating through the process of starting up or expanding in Hawaiʻi
  • Annually survey small businesses statewide to assess their current practices and needs regarding connectivity
  • Develop a Broadband Dashboard to track progress and gaps that will inform decision-making in business development
  • Leverage local media production and distribution assets to capitalize on digital media as a broadband demand driver

2. Leverage and bolster the ecosystem of broadband resources to diversify and create job opportunities

  • Tap accelerator programs and venture capitalists to target start-up activities related to broadband
  • Expand workforce development preparation related to broadband careers
  • Augment emerging technologies to ensure Hawaiʻi’s competitiveness in the foreseeable future, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, big data analytics, augmented reality, and e-Sports
  • Plan for broadband infrastructure to support smart grid development that will support Hawaiʻi’s 2045 renewable energy goals
  • Foster collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit organizations in support of broadband expansion, including community networks
  • Track and strengthen capability to secure federal opportunities for funding economic development opportunities related to broadband in the state
  • Develop policies to ensure open secure networks that protect net neutrality and consumer/worker privacy
  • Address displaced workers through expanded telework opportunities

3. Improve delivery of government services through robust broadband capabilities

  • Facilitate innovation and technology transfer culture among government agencies
  • Upgrade back-office functions and information technology infrastructure
  • Expand broadband applications into the communications, teaching, learning, and work environments
  • Enable local first responders and public safety agencies to utilize the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network through the First Responder Network Authority
  • Support deployment of the Next Generation 9-1-1/e911 (NG9-1-1) nationwide emergency services system
  • Develop and deploy telehealth applications to support health information exchange, advanced diagnosis, consultation, and treatment for residents
  • Increase electronic access to all government records, services, and proceedings
  • Increase use of social media and the internet to communicate with citizens and increase their participation in government

IV. Strengthen Community Resiliency through Broadband

1. Interconnect the functions and operations of public, private and community networks

  • Establish and annually convene island-based collaborative planning teams of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to address the broadband resilience framework
  • Annually assess current geographically specific conditions and risks and update strategies that relate to broadband infrastructure including communications, carrier/provider capabilities, and recovery priorities
  • Create community resilience plans and checklists for broadband for each island to include components such as public awareness, training, hotspots, devices, and partners

2. Maximize open access and ensure timely connectivity to critical network infrastructure during crises

  • Leverage broadband capabilities to aid first responders, coalesce community networks, and mobilize volunteer engagement
  • Prioritize staffing and connectivity at community anchor institutions such as libraries, community centers, schools, etc.
  • Restore and maintain connectivity to businesses to protect the viability of businesses and the livelihoods of residents

In alignment with and in addition to the broadband plan, the Broadband Hui published the Digital Equity Declaration in hopes of moving Hawaiʻi toward a more equitable digital future. The declaration is a call to advance three pillars of digital equity: 

  1. Access: Affordable, quality broadband for all;
  2. Literacy: A baseline of digital competence for all; and
  3. Livelihood: Societal systems effectively leveraging digital opportunities to improve lives.

The vision expressed in the declaration is that, within ten years, all residents in Hawai‘i will have access to the digital skills and connectivity needed to participate fully in society and economy, so that they may benefit from lifelong learning, civic and social engagement, access to essential services, and expanded job opportunities.

The declaration includes the following goals:

  • By 2030, consistent, quality internet access is available to 100% of Hawai‘i’s residents
  • By 2023, all Hawai‘i’s residents will have access to quality training and support to develop the skills to use digital technology to enhance their quality of life.
  • Build a digitally literate workforce for education, health, government, commerce, and culture.
  • By 2025, all government services available to the public are made accessible online through a single government portal, unless in-person interaction is otherwise necessary.
  • By 2025, civic participation, including the ability to provide live oral testimony, is available online for all public hearings of state and county legislative and administrative bodies.
  • Affordable and secure access to safe, quality health care is available to all Hawai‘i residents via telehealth and in-person.
  • Every healthcare provider in rural or urban areas should have equal access and know how to effectively use and provide safe, quality, and secure healthcare services via telehealth.
  • Hawai‘i’s significant cultural and artistic collections are made available to students and the public online, such that the knowledge, inspiration, identity, and values of Hawai‘i’s people can continue to be shared with the world.
  • By 2030, all students have the opportunity to participate in in-person, online, and hybrid learning.
  • Reskill/upskill Hawai‘i’s workforce.
  • Make support available for local companies looking to embrace digital technology to expand their business opportunities.

Signees to the declaration adopt this vision and goals as a foundation for collective action toward a more equitable digital future.  

Hawai‘i’s Broadband Programs

In 2021, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature established the Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program to award grants to applicants to extend deployment of infrastructure used to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Only non-governmental entities with experience with broadband infrastructure or service are eligible for awards—and must cover no less than 60 percent of project costs themselves. The legislature also allocated $5 million from the state's share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for the grant program. The same legislation also created Hawaiʻi's Broadband and Digital Equity Office within the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Federal Funding

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

In late 2022, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that Hawaiʻi received over $5 million in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed internet service throughout the state. Hawaiʻi received $5 million to:

  • Identify unserved and underserved households;
  • Increase capacity of the Broadband and Digital Equity Office;
  • Engage locally with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to better understand barriers to adoption for unserved and underserved communities. 

Hawaiʻi is expected to deliver a 5-year plan for connecting all unserved locations in the state by the end of August 2023.

In addition, Hawaiʻi received $570,883 to fund:

  • Development of the Digital Equity plan for Hawaiʻi through the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism;
  • Outreach with the State Broadband Office to stakeholders in unserved and underserved communities;
  • Development of collaborative partnerships among stakeholders to achieve digital equity in Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiʻi will complete its statewide digital equity plan by December 2023.

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program

The Department of Hawaiʻian Home Lands won a grant of over $17 million from NTIA's Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to assist rural areas with high concentrations of Native Hawaiians in developing programs and resources to address technology gaps and build capacity to use broadband services. The project is expected to enable broadband adoption activities, including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and digital literacy. Additionally, the department will conduct a planning study in support of future broadband infrastructure deployment projects, collecting data on the availability and efficiency of current services. The study will aim to build an engineering plan for future infrastructure construction, increase collaboration from relevant stakeholders, and, ultimately, propose a sustainable, hybrid network design broadband infrastructure project. 

The project will improve technology at education centers and enable remote learning opportunities, fund network mapping of current broadband services, preserve Native Hawaiian cultural initiatives, increase access to broadband equipment, and establish telehealth services. 

The project intends to benefit at least 10,000 Native Hawaiians who reside on over 200,000 acres of land. 

American Rescue Plan Act's Capital Projects Fund

On April 27, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved Hawaiʻi's plan to use $115.5 million from the Capital Projects Fund to implement two broadband infrastructure programs that aim to provide reliable internet access to households across the state. Hawaiʻi will invest $101.7 million in the Hawaiʻi Subsea Middle Mile Program designed to address the unique subsea cable infrastructure that’s needed to provide connectivity between the islands to ensure each has reliable, high-speed internet access. Hawaiʻi will additionally invest $8 million towards the Hawaiʻi Public Housing Authority (HPHA) Connections Program to upgrade public housing facilities to provide residents with access to affordable, high-speed internet. Both programs are designed to support internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical or better to households and businesses upon project completion. The University of Hawaiʻi will run the programs with oversight from the Hawaiʻi Department of Budget and Finance.

Hawaiʻi is devoting 100% of its total allocation under the Capital Projects Funds program for these broadband programs.

In Appreciation of Burt Lum

When someone speaks broadband in the State of Hawaiʻi, the first name mentioned is Burt Lum. In March 2023, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Executive Director Adrianne Furniss announced that Mr. Lum was a recipient of a Charles Benton Digital Equity Award. "If you’ve met Burt, you recognize his boundless energy and enthusiasm," Furniss said at the time. He has been a driving force in Hawaiʻi technology and telecommunications for nearly four decades and currently serves as the State Broadband Coordinator of the Hawaiʻi Broadband and Digital Equity Office.

In March 2020, in response to the pandemic, Burt launched the Hawaiʻi Broadband Hui—a grassroots community gathering which convenes partners from diverse backgrounds who collaborated to increase Hawaiʻi’s digital capacity and support the continuity of social connections, education, employment, and access to other essential services throughout the pandemic.

Burt has developed strong relationships across sectors through the weekly Hui meetings to address the urgent need to provide digital connectivity to those in need. The Hui is collaborative by nature, and Burt has supported member initiatives that leverage the collective strength of the Hui.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

May 8—Broadband Technical Assistance Webinar (USDA)

May 10—Closing the Digital Divide: Overseeing Federal Funds for Broadband Deployment (House Commerce Committee)

May 18—May 2023 Open FCC Meeting

May 22—Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2023 (Connect Humanity)

June 5—RightsCon Costa Rica (AccessNow)

June 5—UTC Telecom & Technology Conference (Utilities Technology Council)

June 8—June 2023 Open FCC Meeting

June 26—Smart Rural Community (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)




The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.