Helping more people access the digital highway

Posted on Mar 1, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured
HDOT wants to provide more wireless access to rural areas.

HDOT wants to provide more wireless access to rural areas.

If we’ve learned anything in the pandemic, it’s that access to broadband — that digital superhighway — affects everyone. So how do we help people work or learn from home? One answer already in the works is a pilot project from the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) to help more people connect to the internet, even if they don’t have their own service provider. HDOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen is preparing a state-managed WiFi system especially to help rural communities. The project will focus on eight areas: Kalihi, Kapa‘a, Wai‘anae, Nanakuli, Waimānalo, Kau, Puna and Hana. “We’re using the backbone of our state highways and county roadways to extend wireless into underserved neighborhoods,” explained Sniffen. “From my perspective, Wi-Fi is like electricity now. You can’t live without it; you have to have it.”

Access to broadband will be a key part of growing the state’s tech industry.

Access to broadband will be a key part of growing the state’s tech industry.

The pilot project, to get under way this spring, will provide WiFi access to two people per household, devices if needed, and a staffed help desk. Improved wireless mesh connectivity will also be used to increase the efficiency and safety of the state’s highway system and lay the foundation for Hawai‘i to become a test site for connected autonomous vehicles. “The pandemic, when so many people had to operate virtually, made this a huge priority for the state and the federal side as well,” said Sniffen. “Everybody’s aligned to make sure broadband is front and center. We want to make sure we make the most of this opportunity because it’s the key to our next industry for the future.” Federal transportation and broadband funding will be leveraged to pay for the construction and operation of the pilot system.

Read more in the March Capitol Connection newsletter.

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