LIHU‘E — Calling it an almost unprecedented opportunity for Hawai‘i to step forward, Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Tuesday announced the Hawai‘i Broadband Initiative. His plan envisions statewide access to low-cost, blazing fast Internet connections by 2018.
“We will build the infrastructure that will provide everyone with access to ultra high-speed Internet at prices they can afford,” he said. “The Hawai‘i Broadband Initiative will help ensure that our state is a global leader and continues to advance in areas like education and healthcare.”
Maxwell Klutke, a Kaua‘i County IT specialist, said the new technology opens up a “huge new horizon” of possibilities.
“This is where we’re at now,” he said, comparing the technology shift as going from a cart-and-buggy to an automobile.
“It’s a brand new resource and technology to use and deploy. … Now you can travel greater distances in one day and come home,” he said. “In the cart-and-buggy you go to town and hurry up to come home before dark.”
Despite an ambitious plan to lead the nation in broadband connectivity, Abercrombie said the initiative is not about technology.
“We don’t want to get trapped in that,” he said. “This is a transformer of infrastructure.”
Abercrombie said his administration would not leave anyone behind; every household in Hawai‘i will be able to be connected. Hawai‘i’s rural character and geographic layout causes a “dispersion of population,” he said, and for the young people to participate fully in the 21st Century, broadband connectivity will be “absolutely crucial” to them.
The initiative’s purpose is to improve the state’s overall productivity, support innovation and creativity, job creation, improve the overall quality of life through advances in education, health care and civic engagement.
Video game designer and entrepreneur Henk Rogers, a featured speaker in the governor’s announcement, said Japan’s Internet connection is 66 megabits per second, Korea’s is 58 Mbps and Finland’s 48 Mbps.
The United States falls well behind those and many other countries, he said, offering a connectivity speed of 4.8 Mbps.
“Really?” Rogers said. “I mean, we invented this stuff.”
It gets worse in Hawai‘i. The Aloha State is ranked 31st in the nation regarding high-speed Internet connection.
“We’re going to do something about it,” he said. “High-speed Internet means high-paying jobs.”
The only industry in Hawai‘i that can “really grow” is the Internet-based industry, he said. “If we have the highest broadband speed in the nation we will be the next Silicon Valley, right here in Hawai‘i.”
The initiative’s target connection speed is 1 gigabit per second — about 200 times faster than current average speed — available to every household in Hawai‘i by 2018.
Abercrombie put the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in charge of leading the initiative.
DBEDT is supposed to create financial incentives to bring in investors and forge partnerships between public and private sectors.
DCCA is working with several levels of government agencies and private stakeholders to come up with a plan to achieve all the initiative’s goals. The agency is also working with state Legislature to identify and address legal hurdles.
Abercrombie said work is underway for Hawai‘i to become the first state in the nation with such high-speed connectivity at every public school, library, university and college.
To achieve this goal, the state will be using about $33.6 million in federal money secured through the American Reinvestment Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The Hawai‘i Broadband Initiative is a huge undertaking in many ways,” DBEDT Director Richard Lim said. “In its potential impact on the economy, in the fact that it touches so many people and so many aspects of people’s lives, and in the number of people that it will take for this body to succeed.”
Broadband can be the catalyst to transform Hawai‘i’s economy and position it in the 21st Century, he said, but the challenges to bring the initiative to fruition are significant.
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will be difficult,” Lim said. “We will have to approach this initiative with a shared sense of purpose and urgency, and we will need strong leadership from both the public and private sectors.”
The state, he said, must adopt clean and consistent policies to promote investments, to accelerate the use of broadband services and fashion a moderate regulatory environment, flexible and open to new ideas.
The governor must lead by example, changing the way it operates, making it easier to remotely access and perform transactions with the state from a multitude of devices, Lim said.
“Clearly the government has a large role to play, but this cannot be a government-centric initiative,” he said. “The private sector and the community at large will inevitably set the pace for both deployment and adoption.”
Tuesday’s announcement from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education building was accessible via video conferencing from three locations across the state, including the Kaua‘i Community College.
The initiative could have come in hand at the announcement: At one point the video streaming was lost, but the audio kept going. Two minutes later the video streaming was back online.