LIHU‘E — During the last year, the need to have reliable access to internet and a computer became the standard for communication, attending school and access to social services and health care.
But not everybody has that access. That was made clear during the pandemic.
Wednesday, the County Council made a commitment, through a resolution, urging the development of broadband infrastructure in support of closing the digital divide during the COVID-19 recovery period. Councilmembers Luke Evslin and Billy DeCosta introduced the measure that passed unanimously.
The resolution, Evslin said, recognizes that not only are there “vast inequities” in internet access across the county, but these issues were highlighted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the main drivers to inequitable access (is that) a lot of companies (offering) broadband service are for-profit companies,” Evslin said, noting that broadband infrastructure can be expensive, and these groups may not have the ability to pay off the investment of constructing rural infrastructure.
“In our rural areas especially, there’s no financial incentive for companies to invest. That internet service is weak or poor, and still pay the same price as everyone else,” DeCosta said. “Let’s not forget when our cable got severed and we had a blackout on Kaua‘i. Our infrastructure is almost at life span.”
According to a 2019 American Community Survey, 9.5% of the state have no internet subscriptions, and 7% don’t have a computer. Further, 8.7% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders don’t have internet subscriptions.
The October 2020 Hawai‘i Broadband Strategic Plan from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism declared that broadband critical infrastructure needs to be a public- and private-sector priority for the state’s economic future and quality of life of its residents.
During his State of the State Address in January, Gov. David Ige pushed for a digital economy with a Hawai‘i 2.0 campaign, and announced a pilot project through the state Department of Transporation to connect rural communities to broadband service, including Kapa‘a.
Through the resolution, the county becomes a signatory of the Digitial Equity Declaration from the Broadband Hui, a group formed during the pandemic by DBEDT, the Economic Development Alliance of Hawai‘i and Transform Hawai‘i Government. The county joins the City &County of Honolulu as well as Maui and Hawai‘i Island as signatories.
Some objectives of the state’s plan outline trans-Pacific and inter-island fiber-optic cables and rural broadband as well as wireless-broadband deployment.
Councilmember Felicia Cowden’s motion to defer the resolution to allow further discussion and for more community feedback died with a split vote amongst members.
“I would like many people to be excited about (this resolution) instead of just finding that it happened and it’s over,” Cowden said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.