It’s that time of the year again. Hawaii has just hosted the annual Pacific Telecommunications Council meeting — a who’s who of every telecom expert from the Pacific Rim. I had a chance to speak with John Hibbard, CEO of Hibbard Consulting, a Sydney-based company. Hibbard has been a longtime observer of the telecom scene, and I wanted to get his take on Hawaii’s rapidly evolving role as a communications hub.
Hibbard reckons that the most important news is the Pacific Fibre cable project, with proposed landings in Sydney; Auckland, New Zealand; and Los Angeles. If it materializes, this will be the first major cable from the South Pacific to bypass Hawaii. On the surface it’s not good news. The upshot is that technology exists now so that big cables don’t need to land here. However, there could be a silver lining. Pacific Fibre could serve as a catalyst for Hawaii to examine how we can continue to play a significant role in cable connectivity when technology enables a bypass.
So what could some of these roles be?
We can start, he suggests, by helping our Pacific island neighbors in the areas where they most need our assistance: health, education and emigration. Telecommunications can help address these issues. However, just providing a submarine cable is not the complete answer. "It’s the applications and the commercial arrangements for their exploitation," Hibbard says, "which is a necessary ingredient, and this is where there is a real role for Hawaii to contribute."
Consider, he says, the case of American Samoa. Its hospital is modest, and for any major procedures or consultations, locals need to travel to Hawaii. That’s a round-trip fare of nearly $1,000, not even counting a few days in Hawaii. With the new cable, remote health care is possible with collaboration from Hawaii’s top-rated hospitals so that residents won’t have to travel.
Similarly, connectivity between educational institutions can enable enhanced long-distance learning. Linking campuses will strengthen education quality. The University of Hawaii and similar institutions have a real role to play by providing high-level curricula to Pacific islanders who otherwise would not have access to it locally.
As Hawaii’s traditional service industries mature, e-business is clearly the wave of the future. Hawaii is geographically well placed to service the requirements of the Pacific. With a little imagination, the Aloha State can be not only a regional medical and education hub, but an information nexus for the entire Pacific.