State leaders propose broadband commission


POSTED: Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hawaii needs better broadband.

That is one thing Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, the legislature and high-tech community agree upon, said Larry Reifurth, director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Yesterday, Reifurth, Lingle and representatives of the Hawaii Broadband Task Force outlined a proposal to create a Hawaii Communications Commission.

Companion bills in the state Senate and House (SB895/HB1077) would create the commission to lead widespread improvements in broadband speed and access, one of three priorities for federal funding the state outlined to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Lingle said.

The commission would serve as a regulatory agency - consolidating regulation of cable operators and telecommunications providers under a single entity - and also as an advocate for industry development and consumers.

Cable regulation would move immediately to the commission while regulation of telecommunications providers would move one year later to allow time to hire and train up to 14 staff to handle telecommunications issues in light of the Hawaiian Telcom Communications Inc. bankruptcy proceedings, Lingle said in a statement.

The commission would be funded by fees currently being paid to the state Public Utilities Commission by telecommunications providers and to the Cable Television Division by cable operators.

Goals of the proposed commission include: Providing access to broadband statewide by 2012 at speeds and prices comparable to the average available in the top three performing countries in the world, as well as making broadband affordable to low-income and other disadvantaged groups. PC magazine recently ranked Hawaii 49th of the 50 states in broadband speed.

Broadband speed, capacity and accessibility similar to that in Japan or Korea would attract industry to Hawaii, said Henk Rogers, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii-based Blue Planet Software Inc.

Local Internet service providers offer 10- to 15-megabit-a-second service, while customers in Japan can get 1,000 megabit-a-second service, said David Lassner, task force chairman and vice president for information technology at the University of Hawaii.

The broadband-over-powerline technology explored by Hawaiian Electric Co. a couple years ago is not part of the proposal because the utility has not moved forward with it.

Hawaii's teleport operators, providing Internet and other satellite services in Hawaii and beyond, were not part of the existing task force, “;but they will benefit”; from the initiative, Reifurth said.