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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2007

COMMENTARY
Bandwidth is Hawaii's crucial need

By Cliff Miyake

Over the last decade, the Internet has become an integral part of our social, economic and governmental infrastructure. Without it, business and government would come to a screeching halt. However, deploying bandwidth is not just about greater ability to exchange e-mail or share the latest music video.

Greater Internet capability has huge ramifications for disaster recovery and other issues. It could even make the difference between life and death.

Every Hawai'i resident knows that our state is vulnerable to tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes. As this newspaper observed in a March 23 story (Pandemic flu report sees heavy Isle losses), a severe flu outbreak could cost Hawai'i 10,000 lives and $3.6 billion in economic losses.

What does the Internet have to do with bird flu? Plenty.

According to a report authored by the Trust for America's Health, the first thing that visitors (and local people) should do during a flu pandemic is to avoid travel and crowds.

Because people will be discouraged from congregating or going to work during a pandemic, every state and business entity would have to be run virtually. Managers and staffers would have to communicate seamlessly over the Internet and over wireless phone networks to keep business as usual a reality. With broadband connections, applications such as video conferencing and IP audio conferencing can also be used.

Obviously, maintaining communications is not just a concern of management. Medical personnel, emergency workers and key labor union officials must be connected by secure links to monitor events and communicate with their constituencies. Broadband connections, dependable computers, data backup systems, uninterruptible power supplies, security measures (i.e., virtual private networks) and other technologies such as these must be in place.

Are government officials and corporate executives implementing these technologies?

If we take our minds off the looming pandemic for a moment and look at other advantages telecommuting affords, it's easy to imagine what impact lessening the number of auto commuters would have on gridlock, which a recent Advertiser story said costs our state nearly $170 million per year. As experts tell us, there's simply not much real estate for new highways, and a new mass-transit system will cost us billions.

This is not a revolutionary idea. It already works in other states such as Arizona, where 16 percent of state workers telecommute. Keep in mind, according to experts, it wouldn't take more than a 5 percent drop in traffic during the prime commuting hours to make a major dent in congestion, not to mention reduction in our carbon footprint, dependence on fossil fuels and savings of time.

Establishing a telecommuting program would not take a multibillion-dollar investment. However, it would take state, city and private entities to establish guidelines regarding what kinds of workers might be telecommuting candidates.

We are vulnerable not only to natural disasters and slow strangulation from gridlock, but to slipping from our perch as a global tourism hub unless we can improve our information and communications technology infrastructure.

In a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, the U.S. trailed 14 industrialized countries in broadband penetration.

If Hawai'i is going to maintain itself as a world-class tourism destination, we'll need to offer the same level of service as the competition. The same applies to growing the technology sector. We're now beginning to attract world-class information technology and life sciences companies.

To sustain a competitive edge, we need to vastly improve on what we have by deploying more fiber to businesses and expanding fast Internet capabilities to our tourist plant as is already available in Asia.

To accomplish this, we need to install more fiber and antennas that will increase connection speeds for businesses and individuals. This could be done with private investment supported by state tax incentives.

We must also smooth over the patchwork of regulations that govern local infrastructure improvements which will foster a better telecommunications environment for locals and tourists who demand first-class technology.

"The danger of falling behind," said Tim Bajarin, a Silicon Valley analyst with Hawai'i ties, "is that the Aloha State is not going to attract talent ... if the infrastructure doesn't keep pace."

I agree.

No matter how good the beach is in Waikiki, in an era of globalization, both visitors and companies will come to the destination with the best infrastructure. To lose our competitive edge and leave ourselves vulnerable to calamities, ranging from hurricanes to pandemics, is to court disaster.

We've got the technology to tackle these challenges, all we need is the political will to do the job.

We could slip from our perch as a global tourism hub unless we improve our information and communications technology infrastructure.

Cliff Miyake is the vice president and general manager of the Honolulu office of Time Warner Telecom. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser. Reach him at Cliff.Miyake@twtelecom.com.