Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism

02/21/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/21/2024 14:33

Final Version of Hawaii Digital Equity Plan PublishedNewsRead More Final Version of Hawaii Digital Equity Plan Published

Final Version of Hawaii Digital Equity Plan Published

Posted on Feb 21, 2024 in News

Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office
For Immediate Release: February 21, 2024

Federal officials to evaluate plan to determine potential funding for expanding broadband services to underserved areas

HONOLULU-With the aim of ensuring universal access to the internet and addressing diverse digital needs across our state, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office (HBDEO) has published the final version of its Hawaii Digital Equity Plan. It is now undergoing federal review with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The Hawaii Digital Equity Plan provides recommended strategies, objectives, and actions which seek to set a pathway toward a digitally equitable future. It is available for public viewing at broadband.hawaii.gov/digitalequityplan.

The plan will enable NTIA to determine subsequent federal funding allocations for each U.S. state, directing resources toward specific community programs and projects aimed at improving broadband service, with particular emphasis on underserved and rural communities. Anticipated funding, slated for receipt around September 2024, will empower HBDEO to prioritize digital equity projects within the state.

"Addressing the digital divide, which persists due to inadequate affordable internet services or limited access to laptops and computers, is a pressing community concern in Hawaii and across our nation," said Strategic Broadband Coordinator Chung Chang. "The plan and eventual funding are intended to tackle the issue of digital inequality which disproportionately affects our most vulnerable and underserved populations, particularly those in rural communities and facing socio-economic disadvantages."

The plan serves as a navigational tool for setting policies and building capacity within the state. It allows communities to identify needs, formulate action plans, and achieve desired outcomes. In addition, the plan enables the state to pursue federal funding for the development of digital equity projects and programs within communities.

According to the digital equity plan, efficient broadband coverage statewide and other factors will assist all populations in the following categories:

Workforce and economic development: The plan aims to provide affordable internet service and connected devices to individuals seeking to join the workforce. The goal is to achieve a fully digitally literate workforce to meet the demands of an evolving global economy. This includes ensuring access to internet and a computer device and teaching digital skills necessary for a thriving workforce.

Education: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of access to reliable internet and devices for remote learning. The goal is for all students to have the opportunity for in-person, online, and hybrid learning by 2030.

Health care: The COVID-19 pandemic also underscored the need for telehealth services. The Digital Equity Plan aims to ensure affordable and secure broadband service for all Hawaiʻi residents, making quality health care accessible through telehealth appointments.

The plan was developed through a phased approach, involving data evaluation, community focus groups, interviews, and public outreach sessions. It serves as a strategic framework and is part of a national initiative to develop digital equity plans for all U.S. states and territories.

The draft Digital Equity Plan was published on September 30, 2023 to invite public comment through October 2023. An electronic copy of the draft plan was posted on the HBDEO website and printed copies were made available at all public library branches across the state. HBDEO collaborated with 39 focus groups statewide to gather input on enhancing and expanding internet service to disadvantaged populations.

Chang said, "The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical need for access to internet connection, adequate devices, and digital education for our residents. The needs were particularly pronounced in low-income, rural, and underserved communities."

"If we are to thrive as island communities, everyone matters," he added. "Digital equity lifts the most vulnerable populations and in doing so, moves all of us forward."

For more information on the Hawaii Digital Equity Plan, please visit broadband.hawaii.gov.

About Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office (HBDEO):
HBDEO was established within the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic

Development and Tourism with a mission to support and coordinate statewide deployment of high-speed internet access (broadband) and to achieve the goals of digital equity and adoption for all residents of Hawaii. HBDEO's functions include the coordination, implementation, promotion, funding and managing of programs that ensure the equitable distribution of digital technologies and provide pathways to maximize Hawaii's competitiveness in the digital economy.

About Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT):
DBEDT is Hawaii's resource center for economic and statistical data, business development opportunities, energy and conservation information, and foreign trade advantages. DBEDT's mission is to achieve a Hawaii economy that embraces innovation and is globally competitive, dynamic and productive, providing opportunities for all Hawaii's citizens. Through its attached agencies, the department fosters planned community development, creates affordable workforce housing units in high-quality living environments and promotes innovation sector job growth.

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Media Contact:
Laci Goshi
Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism