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Editorial | Island Voices

Exciting inroads are being made on Hawaii’s H-4 information highway

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I recently had the privilege of sharing Hawaii with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. My goal was to show him the many challenges we face as an island state, as well as our exciting cutting-edge opportunities.

An enhanced broadband investment is critical to Hawaii’s economic, educational and social well-being. It is H-4—Hawaii’s information superhighway—our connection to the world, our lifeline to the future.

In light of our isolated, non-contiguous geography and mountainous topography, broadband investment and connection costs are more than double that of the mainland. The cost differential can be even higher for our neighbor island rural communities.

Hence, it should come as no surprise that we began our visit on the Big Island. Mayor Billy Kenoi and his first-responder team discussed the need for a robust microwave and fiber network to meet public safety and communication needs now and into the future.

Without a sufficient population base, there is little commercial interest in making any significant investment. That is why government resources are critical to help buy down a part of the private risk, and to encourage sustaining partnerships. A pending application for federal stimulus dollars was jointly submitted by our three neighbor island counties. Such a broadband investment, while targeted for public safety, will also enhance distance learning, tele-health, and economic opportunities.

We journeyed to Waimea for a native roundtable on the importance of broadband deployment on tribal lands, including Hawaiian Homelands. The comments were amazingly similar, whether from Barrow, Alaska, the Apache in New Mexico, to Hawaiian homesteaders in rural Waimea.

Chairman Genachowski is the first FCC chairman to create a Native American office to ensure greater broadband investment and adoption in native communities. He said that we have an opportunity to make a technological leap to broadband without being saddled with expensive integration or the chore of dismantling legacy voice equipment. In doing so, we promise native peoples that they will not be left further behind as technology and opportunity explode.

On Oahu, whirlwind visits highlighted cutting-edge technology applications in health, education, smart-grid and cyber security.

The FCC chairman witnessed a consultation between Queen’s Medical Center physician William Loui and Dr. Bill Thomas of Molokai General Hospital, who monitors Molokai cancer patients via the Internet. This has reduced the cost and strain of traveling to Honolulu significantly, allowing patients to remain at home for treatments.

We also met advanced placement calculus teacher Michele Sera who was simultaneously teaching students at Maui and Keaau high schools with distance learning technology. And we met Brittni Dinong, Waianae High School graduate and participant in the nation’s first statewide student news network "Hiki No," or "Can Do." It will formally launch in early 2011 and includes students from 70 schools working together in a virtual studio.

With challenge comes innovation. With innovation comes opportunity. With opportunity, comes hope. With hope, anything is possible. I have no doubt that Chairman Genachowski left with a greater understanding of Hawaii’s potential to both care for its own, and to export capabilities nationally and internationally.


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