Hawai‘i County Council gives nod to measures that will further Big Island broadband connectivity initiatives
September 28, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
The Hawai‘i County Council wants all Big Island residents to have equitable access to high-speed internet connectivity and recently moved ahead with four measures aimed at getting the county closer to that goal.
Two of the measures, Resolutions 255 and 256, would allow the county to receive a total of $275,000 in grant funds for broadband connectivity initiatives. The other two, Bills 67 and 68, appropriate those funds into the proper County accounts.
The Hawai‘i County Research and Development Department would use $100,000 of federal funds granted through the University of Hawai‘i to assist with developing and implementing a plan to achieve equitable internet access for everyone around the island.
The other $175,000 in federal funding granted through the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism would go toward providing services and financial aid for internet subscription costs for qualified households on the island.
The priority is helping the unserved, underserved and community anchor institutions, which are places such as schools, libraries, public safety entities and others that provide outreach, access, equipment and support services for the greater use of broadband internet by vulnerable populations including those who are low income or unemployed and kūpuna.
“The objective is that everyone gets it,” Research and Development Energy Specialist Riley Saito told Council members. “There’s no one left behind.”
Data recently collected by the county shows there are still at least 13,000 households on the Big Island without accessibility to broadband service and many others are underserved.
The $100,000 from the University of Hawai‘i will be used for outreach and engagement plans on the Big Island to identify and better understand the technology needs of the community as part of a 5-year $149 million Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. The program is funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The $175,000 being funneled to the county from the state will help expand the Federal Communications Commission Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers subsidies so households can afford the broadband access they need for work, school, health care and more.
The program offers a $30 discount per month toward internet access for households with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty line or that have a member who meets certain criteria. Those residents in Hawaiian homelands who qualify can get $70 a month.
The grant will pay for additional community outreach on the Big Island to get households signed up. Saito said the goal is to get 7,000 households signed up as soon as possible.
Research and Development is working on a request for proposals now for interested individuals and organizations who want to take on the task.
Saito said it’s not all about accessibility; affordability is a big part of the equation. They’re hand-in-hand when it comes to gaining truly equitable broadband access for all.
All four measures were introduced by Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who chairs the Council’s Finance Committee. They each received favorable recommendations during the committee’s most recent meeting on Sept. 19.
The Council will consider final approval of the resolutions and first readings of the bills during its next regular session Oct. 4.
The county in 2021 earmarked about $6 million for broadband internet buildout around the island. The broadband initiative was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for greater internet connectivity for the county and Big Island community at large to communicate and access resources.
The work is centered on closing the digital divide. This year, the county will be collecting data for its broadband action plan, adding capacity and hosting additional community meetings so everyone’s voices are heard.
“We really need to know what people have and what people don’t have, and [we’re] doing a lot more resource development for that,” Research and Development Digital Equity Specialist Shola Kahiapo-Trevino told the Council.
For more information about broadband initiatives, click here.