Sunday, June 6, 2010

Just sayin' -- End this paralysis by analysis. It's past time to move into the Internet world.

I was privileged to be in a big room with a lot of smart people last week, and, naturally, the subject of Hawaii’s economic future came up.

The event was the Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology PACON 2010 at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, and scientists from around the world were there to discuss, among other things, the state of the planet’s oceans and new technologies in measuring and evaluating ocean data.

Soon I began hearing a familiar refrain: Why can’t Hawaii create a knowledge economy? Why indeed? We live on the most beautiful islands on the planet. The weather is consistently moderate. Rich people like to live here. You know, smart people wish they could afford to, too.

We’ve got state-of-the-art telescopes. We’ve got some good research going on in our university system, even though it has a long way to go to rank among the country’s best. We’ve got a huge military presence that should bring, if not the great minds, at least the necessary infrastructure.

So why can’t we develop this knowledge economy?

Back in the late ‘90s, I was in a chat room with someone from Malaysia, who described his country as a “jungle with computers.” Malaysia was one of the earliest adopters of an aggressive online community, and, in 2009, this tiny country – split in half by the South China Sea -- has achieved a 67.5 percent Internet penetration. That compares favorably with 76.2 percent for the whole of  North America.

Do we even know what the Internet penetration is in Hawaii?

I couldn’t find it. But I’m betting it’s low: “Comparisons of broadband speeds rank Hawaii among the slowest in the nation. Speed Matters, a project of the Communications Workers of America, ranking Hawaii 47th in the country in 2009, up from 48th in 2008,” said West Hawaii Today earlier this year. “The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs will use a $1.9 million federal grant to map broadband availability in the state.”

You know what? I think it’s high time to move beyond the mapping and the study stage. We already have studies gathering dust on shelves in the cumbersome bureaucracy that is this state’s government.

How about this one?

The Hawaii Broadband Task Force disbanded in late 2008 after publishing a 74-page report detailing four major recommendations necessary for Hawaii to achieve broadband capability comparable to the world’s leaders:
  • Broadband is Vital to Hawaii: The task force recommends that Hawaii establish an aggressive and forward-looking vision that positions the State for global competitiveness.
  • Driving Broadband Deployment: The task force recommends that the State consolidate all relevant regulatory and permitting responsibilities in a new, one-stop, broadband advancement authority that promotes Hawaii’s policy objectives and provides advocacy at all levels of government.
  • Maximize Hawaii’s Connectivity to the World: The task force recommends that Hawaii aggressively promote the landing of new trans-Pacific submarine fiber in Hawaii, including a shared access cable station that reduces barriers to fiber landing in Hawaii.
  • Stimulate Broadband Adoption and Use: The task force recommends that Government lead by example in demonstrating the value of broadband to our citizenry, deploying broadband services to the public, and ensuring that we do not leave behind the economically disadvantaged members of our communities who may be inhibited from full participation in the 21st century.
OK, there’s the plan. Anyone read it lately? Better yet, anyone created steps toward implementation? Anyone throw some money into it? What are we waiting for?

We could move forward now. Or we can stay forever in this mode of paralysis by analysis. Just sayin’.