Ige signs broadband and digital equity bills into law

Gov. David Ige on Thursday signed four bills into law designed to improve broadband internet access and digital equity in Hawaii.

During a bill-signing ceremony in Honolulu, Ige said the measures “represent the efforts of multiple state departments and multiple advocates.”


“I think the one thing that came through loud and clear throughout this pandemic: It really is about digital equity and the notion that those who are not connected and don’t have access … are significantly hampered from full participation in our communities and in our economies,” he said. “… This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to take federal funds, along with the state funds that the Legislature appropriated, and really deliver infrastructure that will be critical for the next generation and the generation to follow.”

Senate Bill 2076, signed into law as Act 231, requires the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office to establish a working group to plan the delivery of broadband services to every community in the state.

The law names the University of Hawaii president and the state’s broadband strategy officer as the co-chairs of the group.

Other members include: the state comptroller; the finance director; the commerce and consumer affairs director; the business, economic development and tourism director; the health director; the education superintendent; the chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission; and the four county mayors.

The law would also fund three full-time positions in the Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office, which has been a one-person operation since its inception, with Bert Lum serving as the broadband strategy officer.

As written, the law appropriates $360,000 for fiscal year 2022-23 to fund those positions and $200 million of federal coronavirus relief funds “for the planning and implementation of a statewide broadband initiative.”

Ige said, however, he will use a line-item veto regarding the federal coronavirus relief funds, saying the money has been “over-appropriated” and is no longer available.

“I do have full confidence with the leadership of the university that we’ll get more than our fair share of federal funds in building this infrastructure,” he said. “And it is because the federal government has suddenly discovered equity, and has made a commitment like I’ve never seen before to ensure that equity is delivered in each and every program.”

Ige also signed SB 2124 into law as Act 232. The law is intended to increase digital access and promote digital literacy through a program administered by the Board of Education through the state librarian.

Ige said he thinks Act 232 will allow the state to “expand programs and ensure that the public libraries can be a community space that provides access to the digital universe.”

The law appropriates $75,000 from the state’s general funds to establish and administer the digital literacy program.

Another measure, SB 2184 became Act 233 with the stroke of a pen. It will establish a digital learning center within the Department of Education.

“We do know that the future of public education here in the state includes the digital version, the virtual version and the in-person version, and for our students, we need to be able to fashion an education program utilizing the aforementioned options,” Ige said.

The law appropriates almost $7.1 million from the general fund for facilities, equipment, properties, operating expenses and personnel.

And SB 2479 was signed into law as Act 234. The law mandates that each public housing project or state low-income housing project built or reconstructed after Jan. 1, 2023, be equipped with broadband infrastructure for tenants.

No monetary appropriation is contained in the law.

“We did discover during this pandemic that having fiber (optic cables) run down the street in front of public housing is just not good enough,” Ige said. “It really is about ensuring that each and every unit has connectivity to the internet, so that everyone can fully participate.”

Lum, who attended the ceremony, said the new laws are for “the betterment of all of our communities.”

“How do we not forget the people that are sometimes marginalized and disenfranchised and on the edges?” he said. “… For Hawaii, if we don’t do this, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, we have to diversify our economy. And I think the best way to do it is the digital economy and the work of the group in broadband and digital equity.”

Three of the four laws take effect today. Act 234 took effect Thursday upon signing.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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