Hawaii Contemplates Creating Own Version of FCC

Published May 1, 2009

State legislators in Hawaii have introduced bills to create the state equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission, a move technology experts say will further burden the broadband industry in a high-cost state.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) announced her support for HB 984, HB 1077, and SB 895, bills that would transfer the duties of regulating the telecommunications industry from the state Public Utilities Commission to a new Hawaii Communications Commission (HCC).

The bills, introduced earlier this year, are the brainchild of the Hawaii Broadband Task Force, which recommended “an aggressive and forward-looking vision that positions the state for global competitiveness.” That would be accomplished, according to the task force, by creating an HCC that would oversee Internet providers and encourage them to speed up their connections.

Vague Goals

The plan doesn’t outline how the agency will spur Internet companies to offer high-speed broadband service, but the task force wants it to be universal throughout Hawaii by 2012 “at speeds and prices comparable to average speeds and prices in the top three performing countries in the world.”

The HCC, through its regulatory power, would work to increase broadband availability at “affordable cost” to low-income and disadvantaged groups. The agency also would “increase sharing of the infrastructure” to deploy broadband; increase “flexible, timely, and responsible access” to public rights-of-way; and allow “a more streamlined permit approval process” that reduces the time and cost of infrastructure deployment.

‘Worrisome Concept’

Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst at the San Diego Institute, said a communications commission is a “worrisome concept.”

“The notion that you need new bureaucracy to catalyze private investment is laughable,” Vasquez said. “Too often what is holding back broadband deployment is government regulations.”

Vasquez said the “build it and they will come” mentality has consistently failed to work for broadband service providers. He noted companies cannot justify spending millions upgrading and marketing infrastructure until consumer demand materializes.

Harming the Consumer

Steven Titch, a public policy analyst for the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, said the Hawaii government does not seem to realize the costs accompanying the mandate.

“Demanding that all Internet service providers deliver a certain level of bandwidth immediately ends any tradeoff in speed for economy,” Titch said. “Hence, it undermines its own objective of universal, affordable service. Whenever you set requirement levels, you limit consumer choice, and that hurts everyone.”

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from California.