Hawaii fiber optic project to improve internet stability

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A project nearing completion is expected to close a gap in Hawaii island's fiber optic system and ensure a stable communications network for internet and cellphone customers.

Hawaii County Information Technology Director Jules Ung said the project is on schedule to be completed by next month, West Hawaii Today reported Monday.

Hawaiian Electric Company is upgrading and relocating power lines through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which will allow Spectrum and Hawaiian Telecom to share space on the poles to complete the Big Island's broadband loop.

Hawaiian Electric said two of three project phases were complete last week.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs reported in 2013 that the island’s fiber “ring” has a 22-mile (35-kilometer) gap from Volcano to Pahala. Any break in service results in internet and cellphone service disruptions down the rest of the line.

There have been several system breakdowns over the years, including a 20-hour disruption in 2013. A six-hour outage in 2015 affected 25,000 phones and 5,500 West Hawaii internet users.

In addition to communication security, the commerce and consumer affairs department estimated increased capacity would benefit underserved communities near the gap including Volcano Village, Pahala, Naalehu and the area between Keaau and Pahoa.

"We’re building up redundancy,” Ung said. “However, we desperately need to close that loop.”

Ung, a member of the state Broadband Assistance Advisory Council, said the project took longer than anticipated because environmental assessments needed to be complete before work could begin.

The National Park Service said last year an assessment found the project had no significant environmental impact.