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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 20, 2009

Broadband efforts can unlock new potential

By David Lassner

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chances are Web sites are coming up slowly for Net surfers in Hawai'i, routinely ranked at the bottom of the list in terms of broadband connections. The state's Broadband Task Force plans to change that by establishing world-class, high-speed service.

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To read the Broadband Task Force's report and to learn more about the bill in the state Legislature go to www.hbtf.org

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Imagine high-definition videoconferencing enabling you to participate in office meetings from home so you can avoid traffic and reduce your carbon footprint. Imagine your father consulting from home with his physician about early-onset Alzheimer's, with the physician able to see confusion on his face. Imagine your son uploading the high-definition video he just finished editing to complete his high school capstone assignment. Imagine your daughter remotely operating a telescope located at the top of a mountain, while watching the massive amounts of data being collected in real time.

Imagine these things going on in your home -all at once - over a high-speed broadband connection.

In Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden and France, Internet access at speeds of 100 million bits per second is available to residents for about $30 per month. That's 60 times faster than a typical broadband connection in the United States and six times faster than the highest speed consumer service currently available in Hawai'i.

Late last year, KDDI announced the rollout of residential Internet access in Japan at 1 billion bits per second (gigabits or gbps) for about $60 per month. And just last month, the South Korea Communications Commission announced plans to bring 1 gbps service to Korean households by 2012.

The Internet was invented in the United States using a key innovation (the Aloha protocol) that was developed at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. UH also implemented the first Internet connections to Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand back in the days when only universities and research labs had access. Yet today, the U.S. has dropped significantly on the international broadband scoreboard, when considering broadband penetration, speed and pricing.

Hawai'i is routinely ranked near the bottom of the states in effective speed of our Internet connections, and UH is now one of the only major research universities in the country without a direct fiber optic connection to the rest of the nation.

Does America's loss of broadband leadership matter, and if so, what can be done? With this in mind, the 2007 Legislature established a Broadband Task Force with a mix of public and private sector members. The Task Force answered the question of whether broadband really matters with a resounding "yes." We found that transformational improvements in healthcare, education, public safety, entertainment, economic development and civic engagement would all be empowered through high-speed broadband. The Task Force agreed that broadband has emerged as a critical infrastructure need in order for our entire state to thrive in the 21st century.

The panel also found that other countries have leapfrogged the United States through intentional public policy. These countries have begun to view broadband as infrastructure to be used and to be accessed by all citizens, and have taken action to improve the availability and speed of the services available. Though they've taken different roads to get there using varying approaches to regulation, differing models of deploying infrastructure and their own models for public investment -they all began with a similar vision and leadership.

In Hawai'i, as with our nation as a whole, we have no vision for broadband in public policy. And while we have many offices at the state and county levels with roles in regulation, franchising, permitting and oversight of the companies that provide services, there is no office or public official in Hawai'i with a mission to advance Hawai'i's broadband capability for all our communities on all our islands.

The Task Force presented its final report to the Legislature and governor at the end of last year. Two of the four key recommendations were: to establish a bold vision that Hawai'i should enjoy services comparable to those in the leading nations of the world; and to perform a revenue-neutral integration of existing disparate oversight functions into a single office with responsibility to ensure streamlining of procedures and permitting, advocacy, and overall leadership for achieving Hawai'i's broadband vision.

These key recommendations have been embraced by the Lingle administration, the Senate majority, the House majority and the House minority. Bills to create a new Hawai'i Communications Commissioner have passed both chambers and the "sausage-making" is now well underway at the Legislature.

It is clear that we have a strong bipartisan consensus. We must take advantage of this consensus, avoiding distraction and keeping in mind the best interests of Hawai'i residents.

We are poised to chart our course toward world-class transformational broadband services for all our citizenry. Hawai'i deserves no less.

Reach David Lassner at (Unknown address).

David Lassner, vice president of information technology and chief information officer for the University of Hawai'i, serves as chair of the Hawai'i Broadband Task Force.