Sunday, March 03, 2024|
Share this story
Hawaii could receive up to $250 million in order to build out broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
Through the federal government’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, every U.S. state will receive $100 million for broadband infrastructure projects in underserved areas.
But a bill moving through the state Legislature aims to boost that number.
“I think we’re expecting around the ballpark of $200 million to $250 million,” said Burt Lum, state broadband coordinator with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s Broadband and Digital Equity Office.
Lum explained that the BEAD Program requires states to provide a 25% funding match for any money received through the program. State Senate Bill 1317 requests an appropriation of $33 million from the state’s general fund as matching funds.
In addition, the bill also requests an allocation of $95 million — taken from funds received through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 — that would further supplement the program.
Through the BEAD Program, Lum said internet service providers could begin to build out infrastructure to eligible areas — he used Naalehu as a hypothetical example — within a year of the funds being allocated, although he added that any estimate could change based on supply chain and workforce issues, the state bidding process, and more.
Lum said the state administration is very supportive of further plans to expand connectivity into rural areas, noting that SB 1317 is part of Gov. Josh Green’s package of bills this year.
“I’m not having to do a lot of convincing on this one,” Lum said. “I think the new administration recognizes the importance of expanding internet access.”
Indeed, Green announced Monday his additional budget requests to the Legislature, which included $5 million toward the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program, which was inaugurated in 2021 and will award grants to projects that will develop internet connectivity in rural areas.
Lum also supports another measure, House Bill 1408, which will establish a $5 million Digital Equity Grant Program, which he said can cover additional projects that aren’t eligible for the BIGP, such as digital literacy classes.
Both bills have been broadly popular in committees so far, with SB 1317 receiving universal support from testifiers. The Hawaii Primary Care Association called the inaccessibility of the internet in rural communities an “issue of social equity.”
“When COVID first hit our islands, many health providers had to limit the number of patients that could be serviced in-person,” HPCA stated in written testimony. “Health care facilities in rural areas experienced the same problems. … But because these communities lacked adequate broadband access, they were effectively cut off from primary care. Many were forced to bear their maladies until it became necessary to go to the emergency room.”
HB 1408 also was generally popular, but drew some criticism over a clause that allowed applicants for a grant to request confidentiality from public disclosure. That clause was amended following a Feb. 6 committee hearing.
SB 1317 will be discussed at a hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee today. The House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will discuss HB 1408 on Thursday.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *