The top priority is to provide service to residents in unserved or underserved areas, and the state plans to generate a list by December of the properties that will benefit.

Hawaii has been awarded more than $149 million under an initiative financed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the latest wave in a surge of federal funding aimed at expanding the reach of broadband service.

The money is part of more than $42 billion being distributed to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

Guam is slated to receive nearly $157 million under the program, and American Samoa will receive $37.5 million.

President Joe Biden announced the awards Monday from the East Room of the White House, comparing the BEAD initiative to the Depression-era effort to deliver electricity to rural areas of the U.S.

The pandemic made clear the urgent need for broadband connections in rural areas, and now federal funding is flowing into the state to provide service to rural areas. This map from the state’s broadband initiative shows areas of the Big Island that are unserved. (State of Hawaii).

Biden described the new awards as “a major investment that we’re making in affordable, high-speed Internet all across the country.”

Hawaii under former Gov. David Ige launched an initiative last fall called Apakau ka la (spreading of the sun’s rays) to decide how to manage broadband assets in Hawaii, in part because it was clear the federal government was planning to make major investments in broadband infrastructure.

The state has already received commitments for $115 million in new federal money from the U.S. Department of Treasury to expand broadband access, and to increase the capacity and reliability of existing infrastructure.

More recently Hawaiian Telcom was awarded a $37 million federal grant earlier this month, money the utility plans to use to lay both undersea and land-based fiber. Those new lines will provide redundancy to make the islands’ networks more reliable, and will also reach into areas without service.

The latest announcement of the planned distribution of $149 million in BEAD for Hawaii funding means the state has now received federal commitments for more than $318 million for broadband infrastructure, which is far more federal support than was ever available before.

Garret Yoshimi, chief information officer for the University of Hawaii, said the state has until July 29 to submit a five-year “action plan” for use of the BEAD funding. That plan will be supplemented in December by a list of specific addresses to benefit from the new funding.

Exactly where the state will deploy the new BEAD money will be based on data collected in maps developed by the Federal Communications Commission, Yoshimi said. Those maps identify about 13,000 Hawaii properties — that is, addresses with houses — that are deemed to be unserved or underserved.

But the state believes the maps contain errors and omissions. It has been urging Hawaii residents since last year to check the maps to compare the internet speeds listed there with the speeds they actually experience.

Residents can enter their addresses to see what level of service the FCC believes is available. UH then plans to work with the counties and neighborhoods around the state for the next six months to make refinements and corrections, he said.

“The first priority for this most recent tranche of funds is to connect the houses that are unconnected,” Yoshimi said of the new federal funding.

The new funding will also be used to target houses that have slow service because of aging infrastructure, with the state attempting to set a service “floor” for reliable and affordable home internet access at 100Mbps, or megabits per second.

The state is expected to file additional documentation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in 2024 listing how much money will be spend in each community, and who will build the new infrastructure, he said.

The state has three or four years to complete construction. The university is the expending agency for most of the federal funding, including the Treasury money and the latest BEAD award, Yoshimi said.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in a written statement Monday that the new funding “will help us expand broadband infrastructure across the state, and help make sure more people and small businesses can get affordable, dependable high-speed internet service.”

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