The new federal funding would provide additional fiber links between the islands to make service more reliable, and to reach unserved rural communities.

Hawaiian Telcom has landed a hefty new federal grant of more than $37 million to beef up broadband infrastructure in Hawaii, including new undersea links between the islands.

The grant by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also help fund new land-based fiber lines to provide new broadband links to areas at high risk for fires, floods and other disasters that could cut communications.

The federal money will provide partial funding for a larger $87 million project, with Hawaiian Telcom pledging to kick in another $50 million in private money and in-kind contributions, according to the utility.

Daniel Masutomi, Hawaiian Telcom’s senior director for strategic planning, bottom right, briefed the Hawaii Broadband Hui last year on the utility’s plans for $37 million in federal funding for broadband infrastructure. Those plans include new undersea interisland broadband cables, shown in red. (Screenshot/2022)

The grant award from the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program of the NTIA was announced Thursday.

Hawaiian Telcom executives gave a detailed briefing on the utility’s NTIA grant application to a collective known as the Hawaii Broadband Hui last fall, detailing a plan to extend broadband service to underserved rural areas while increasing network resiliency in the face of growing threats from climate change.

The federal government earmarked about $1 billion in grant funding nationwide for the middle-mile initiative, and the process was highly competitive. Hawaiian Telcom President and General Manager Su Shin was traveling and declined to be interviewed. However she said in a statement the NTIA received more than 260 applications for middle-mile funding.

Garret Yoshimi, the University of Hawaii’s chief information officer, said the $37 million will be in addition to a surge of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal broadband funding already expected to arrive in Hawaii.

The coronavirus pandemic dramatized the importance of broadband service, prompting the federal government to allocate new federal funding to each state for broadband based on population and to launch competitive new grant programs offering still more broadband funding.

“We are happy that the feds decided to contribute another chunk of funds to our broadband infrastructure,” Yoshimi said. “It’s good news for us.”

Daniel Masutomi, Hawaiian Telcom’s senior director for strategic planning, told the Broadband Hui in the online briefing on Oct. 26 that the existing network links mostly connect the southern portions of each island.

But the Hawaiian Telcom grant application proposed installing new fiber segments mostly along the north shores of Kauai, Oahu and Maui. Those northern landings will mostly be on properties under state control, Masutomi said.

The project contemplates building new undersea cable connections between Kauai and Oahu; between Oahu and Molokai; between Molokai and Maui; and between Maui and North Kohala near the northern tip of the Big island.

The project would also involve “festoons,” or segments of undersea cable that loop around the coastlines of islands to link together different areas of the same island, Masutomi said.

On Kauai, for example, Hawaiian Telcom intends to install new undersea fiber lines off the northern coast of the island to link together Anahola and Princeville, and then continue on from Princeville to the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.

Those offshore loops around Kauai combined with existing lines will form a ring around the island, and that ring configuration will help to keep broadband functioning around the island if any section of the fiber ring is somehow cut, he said.

New undersea cable would also be installed from Anahola, Kauai to Waialua on Oahu, and a new offshore loop would be installed from Waialua to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

That new loop will provide an alternative connection if storm surges fueled by sea level rise cut the existing lines that hug Oahu’s North Shore coastline, Masutomi said.

The new $37 million grant will help finance allow Hawaiian Telcom’s plans for new submarine cable around much of Oahu, and underground cable linking Wahiawa and Waianae. (Screenshot/2022)

The grant-funded project also includes some inland fiber links to try to avoid the risk of flooding and other coastline hazards.

The utility is planning new on-shore fiber lines extending from Wahiawa to Nanakuli and another site on the Waianae Coast, segments that will provide backup to existing lines along Farrington Highway that serve the area. Those lines are also vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise, he said.

The project would include a similar land-based fiber link from Pearl City to Wahiawa, Masutomi said, as well as a short segment from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to Ford Island, which was requested by the military.

The plan also calls for a new undersea cable that would link the Kaneohe Marine base to West Molokai, while another fiber segment would link East Molokai to West Maui at Kapalua.

Those segments provide additional links to Molokai to help keep that island connected if existing land-based lines are cut by fires. Fire has become more of a risk during the recent drought conditions there, Masutomi said.

On Maui, a land-based segment would connect Haiku to Ke‘anae, an area where there is no fiber today. The plan is to use that new fiber to deliver broadband to areas that don’t have that level of service today, he said.

Other planned segments would directly connect Waiehu on Maui to Kahului; and would link Hana, Maui to the northern tip of the Big Island, supplementing cables that serve those areas today.

New land-based lines would also be installed from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway — also known as Saddle Road — along Mana Road to the Hamakua Coast, and another link from Saddle Road to the Volcano area.

“Basically, we’re looking for just additional paths into the whole Puna and Kau district,” Masutomi said during the briefing. “It is a highly volcanic area, we never know where the next lava flow will take place.”

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