Broadband: Connecting people so no one gets left behind

Posted on Feb 25, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
Head librarian Sara Kamibayashi (left) and library assistant Maelene Kaapana.

Head librarian Sara Kamibayashi (left) and library assistant Maelene Kaapana.

People to people. That’s how members of the Broadband Hui are galvanizing whole communities to connect them to online services and provide the training they’ll need for school, work, healthcare and nearly every aspect of daily living.  “What the pandemic helped us realize is that we’ve got to have the internet connection, the hardware, the digital literacy and the know-how to be full participants. If you don’t have ‘digital equity,’ you’re at a real disadvantage,” said Burt Lum, the state’s broadband strategy officer.

In his State of the State address, Governor Ige proposed “the largest investment in technology in state history” of $400 million to build the critical infrastructure of the future, connecting all of the main Hawaiian islands, including Moloka‘i and Lana‘i. “This initiative will not only close the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots, but also strengthen us as a community.” The state plans to leverage millions of dollars in federal funds for major investments in infrastructure, such as cable landing stations and modernizing cable networks, called the “middle mile.” However, everyday users still need the basics to connect to the digital highway. That’s where public and private sector members of the Broadband Hui are the key. They’re already working on the “last mile” — the people-to-people part of the broadband network to make sure rural communities and folks who don’t have the skills, equipment or connectivity won’t be left behind in a digital age. Among the projects in the works:

  • Health and digital navigators at 15 libraries statewide – Starting this month, the Na‘alehu Public Library on Hawai‘i island is expected to be the first pilot site using trained high school and college students to help people access health information and telehealth visits. Other sites that will be gradually rolled out include Lānaʻi, Moloka‘i, Hāna, Kihei, Waimea, Princeville, Hanapepe, Pāhoa, North Kohala, Hilo, Wai‘anae, Kahuku, Waimānalo, Wahiawa and Waipahu. Sylvia Mann, supervisor of DOH’s genomics section, said the $3.7 million federally funded project is an important example of statewide collaboration. “We’re working with the state library system, the UH Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center and even a grant from the FCC for Chromebooks, hot spots and broadband access,” she said. “All these folks have the same heart. This is going to help lots of people in Hawai‘i.” Later this year, the plan is to set up mobile clinic vans, rotating among the libraries on each island. Clinic vans can also be deployed to community sites or even a patient’s home to provide services.

For their 100th virtual meeting last month, Broadband Hui members were joined by Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Governor Ige, who talked about why digital access is so important for everyone. Rosenworcel praised Hawai‘i and the Hui’s efforts to promote digital equity, the Affordable Connectivity Program and other initiatives and said the FCC “wants to partner with Hawai‘i in any way we can.”

  • More free digital literacy classes – Another round of free, hands-on, introductory classes for adults (18 and older) with little or no computer experience is being offered this spring at four UH community colleges: Hawai‘i, Windward, Kapi‘olani and Kaua‘i CCs. Students will learn basics such as connecting to the internet and setting up an email account. After completion, participants will receive additional free online resources and may receive a laptop to own while supplies last. Call (808) 235-7334 to reserve your seat or go to https://digitalreadyhawaii.org/.

Read more in the March Capitol Connection newsletter.

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