Acknowledging that Maui County residents are dealing with substandard internet browsing speeds, the County of Maui has hired Joel Ogren of the U.S. Navy-sponsored Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii to “evaluate, develop and recommend a preliminary telecommunications strategy for Maui County,” according to a Feb. 2 county news release.
“We see broadband access as one of the most critical barriers to diversifying our economy,” said Teena Rasmussen, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development (OED), in the news release. “We are already 2500 miles from the mainland US, and now we are isolating ourselves even more by falling behind in the telecommunications arena. We see this study as a first step to creating a comprehensive action plan on how we can solve this.”
The news release quotes a recent Pacific Business News article listing Wailuku broadband speeds at “17.32 Mega Bits Per Second.” Yeah, I’m wondering if there’s maybe another Wailuku in Hawaii, because our office is at the corner of Market and Main and this morning I took the official Hawaii Broadband Initiative Speed Test and it clocked in at a remarkably mediocre 7.53 mbps (Hong Kong, the news release helpfully pointed out, has broadband speeds in excess of 106 mpbs).
“We are always working to be less reliant on tourism,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa in the Feb. 2 news release. “Making sure we have high quality, accessible broadband available for our community is critical. Broadband is needed for everything from banking, job searching, shopping and an ever-increasing demand for streaming video. We need to plan for this growth.”
That’s a spot-on description of the trouble Maui’s facing. But given the fact that infrastructure improvements happen slower out here–remember, it took the State of Hawaii six years to widen Mokulele Highway from a two-land highway to four lanes–it’s hard to take the following news release quote from Rasmussen seriously:
“The holy grail is 1 Gigabit-per-second (GBPS). We should strive to bring that to every household in Maui County. Job diversification would flourish, and our sister islands of Molokai and Lanai would have a global advantage unlike any other rural, isolated area. We want to ask the community to think about what they would do with 1 GBPS?”
Why am I imagining county residents getting those “holy grail” broadband speeds just as the rest of the world settles in with download speeds in excess of one terabyte a second? Anyway, the study should take about four months to complete, and will be posted on the county’s OED website when it’s done.
According to county communications director Rod Antone, the contract for the study cost $35,000 and was sole-source, meaning officials felt it didn’t need to be put out for bid.
“In this case because the University of Hawaii through Joel Ogren had already completed a comprehensive study for Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) on broadband landing sites, they felt he was the best option,” Antone said in a Feb. 3 email. “Anyone else would have to recreate the database that UH had already done, at taxpayer expense.”
Click here for our December story on how the State of Hawaii wants residents’ help with internet speeds.
Photo: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons