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Editorial | Island Voices

Hawaii needs satellite broadband service

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Innovation has always played a prominent role throughout the culture and history of Hawaii beginning with King David Kalakaua, who envisioned a modern communications service for the islands.

He put his vision into practice by installing a modern communications system at Iolani Palace that included the recently invented telephone and also granted the first telephone charter in the kingdom in 1883, all of which was revolutionary for the time.

Today, the Obama administration’s plan to "win the future" involves the 21st-century equivalent of island innovation, extending far and wide access to high-speed Internet service, a critical component of modern communications infrastructure.

And while significant investment and innovation have brought wireline broadband to more than 95 percent of American households, wireless broadband is fighting what seems to be a losing battle to keep up with consumers’ voracious appetite for bandwidth, the demand for which doubles every two years.

But America and Hawaii can’t afford to wait. With an improved high-speed Internet infrastructure, our access to the best teachers and doctors would no longer be limited by geography. Small businesses would be able to access markets worldwide without the costs of travel or long-distance phone bills. Without this critical infrastructure, we pay a tremendous price in terms of our productivity, our access to information and the everyday convenience of this technology that we have come to depend on and enjoy.

The Federal Communications Commission says some 10 million homes still lack access to any form of broadband service, while 2 million more have access only to older, substandard services. As an extremely isolated island chain and a largely rural state, Hawaii falls within these statistics. Wireless technology holds the promise of affordably serving these homes, but faces tremendous investment challenges. Here in the U.S., the FCC figures the price for ubiquitous next-generation broadband to run about $350 billion.

This being the case, using airwaves traditionally set aside for satellite communications seems to be the most fertile ground for innovation and political consensus. Already, the FCC’s decision to enable satellite companies to build hybrid ground-based mobile wireless services has led LightSquared to invest a planned $14 billion and a commitment to reach 92 percent of the country with 4G wireless by 2015.

LightSquared has developed the first, wholesale-only nationwide integrated 4G-LTE wireless broadband and satellite network that will offer consumers the speed, value and reliability of universal broadband connectivity. This virtually guarantees absolute coverage in unserved and underserved areas as well as redundancy for emergency use in the event of natural disasters. Hawaii is one of the early states where LightSquared intends to roll out service.

In the final analysis, we face a very real bandwidth crisis because present supply simply cannot keep up with demand. Because this is such a highly regulated industry, we must actively communicate with our Washington delegation our desire to see satellite broadband service brought here.

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