Internet use is key to economic cure


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

A key part of any attempt to recover from the current economic crisis in Hawaii and across the country is advancing the use of the Internet. The Legislature should recognize that role by creating a state commission to coordinate efforts to improve broadband speed and access, which have been increasingly dismal. Gov. Linda Lingle suggested creating such a panel in her State of the State speech last week.

Congress approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye last September to improve broadband infrastructure, which has lagged behind other developed countries in recent years. The United States, which invented the Internet, now ranks 15th in the world in broadband penetration behind European countries, Japan, Korea and Canada.

The problem is especially great in Hawaii, which ranks last among states in median download speed at 2 megabits per second, compared with 2.3 mbps nationally, 63 mbps in Japan and far behind speed of access in South Korea, Canada and European nations.

Broadband speed might be merely frustrating in accessing games, blogs and chatrooms. The delays become more important in the areas of education, health, public safety, research, economic diversification and public services, a state task force noted last month in a report to legislators and the governor.

A problem unique to Hawaii is physical connection to the rest of the world. The state's reliance on expensive trans-Pacific fiber optic systems are vital to that connection, but the most recent fiber optic systems established to connect Asia with the U.S. have bypassed Hawaii since 2001, since they no longer require regeneration at the halfway point.

The economic stimulus package that passed the House last week includes $6 billion to improve broadband deployment across the United States. Hawaii should qualify for federal assistance in coping with the islands' unusual challenge of connectivity.