Opinion article badgeNestled within the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden are billions of dollars to improve broadband connectivity and increase digital equity for tribes, Alaska Native entities and Native Hawaiian organizations.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout has put an exclamation point on the crucial role that technology service, its providers and its regulators play in our everyday lives. Access to the internet and its platforms is access to unlimited business opportunity, particularly for Indigenous peoples.

As such, I am encouraged that this infrastructure package includes a once-in-a-generation investment in broadband that will positively impact the Native Hawaiian community, especially those living in rural areas.

As positive as this pop-up financial investment in the nation’s infrastructure may be, Congress is also seriously considering altering the framework of the competition laws. One of the provisions of a proposed heightened federal gatekeeper system would be requiring government approval prior to mergers and acquisitions by private companies.

There are issues that do need to be addressed with respect to strengthening the public policy framework relating to the nation’s broadband connectivity and internet equity sectors. But this specific congressional effort reverses the current position that such actions are lawful and economically beneficial.

Adding more regulatory hurdles is a “risk-averse” approach to preserving the integrity of the system. The thinking behind the proposal basically flips the constitutional principle that one is innocent until proven guilty and assumes guilt until proven innocent.

The good intention of the massive financial investment will be diminished if mired in risk-averse regulatory hurdles.

As we become more connected through technology, we cannot stifle the innovators who can use this new infrastructure to expand Hawaii’s technology community, which could grow from 30,000 to well over 100,000 as access to the internet improves throughout the state.

The infrastructure bill shows the need for Congress to continue to focus on equal access to technology. The digital divide is real.

The Native Hawaiian community — as well as all other indigenous people’s business sectors — need to chime in. Our congressional leaders need to continue this level of equal access to grow the technology advancement opportunities. The work on the digital divide is just beginning.

Probably the most compelling caution for the Congress to consider is this: If the United States adds to regulatory complexity, while other nations run free and unfettered, it will be a much steeper climb for U.S. companies to maintain their competitive edge to compete globally.

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About the Author

  • Peter Apo

    Peter Apo is a former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and legislator. He is the president of the Peter Apo Company, a cultural tourism consulting company to the visitor industry. He has also been the arts and culture director for Honolulu, the city’s director of Waikiki Development and served as special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Gov. Ben Cayetano.