Hawaii Broadband Law Clears Way for 5G Development

The legislation, signed into law on June 21 by Gov. David Ige, standardizes the process for small cell deployments, which are expected to have a significant impact on Hawaii's economic development.

by / June 29, 2018
Seal of Hawaii Shutterstock/kshiota

Hawaii’s legislators and governor have approved a bill aimed at more closely defining wireless broadband facilities while streamlining the application process for providers. The legislation acknowledges wireless broadband’s necessity and foundational significance to the island state’s economic and technological future.

House Bill 2651, which Gov. David Ige signed into law on June 21, will not apply to permits or applications with a county or the state until after Dec. 31. But the state’s elected leader as well as legislators and a wireless broadband advocate hailed the legislation as a crucial achievement reached through considerable work by elected and industry officials alike.

The bill states that ongoing billion-dollar provider investments in the state’s wireless broadband network will “dramatically” boost connection speeds and service availability; and drive job and gross domestic product growth while establishing a “critical platform” for the Internet of Things.

According to the legislation, “the primary impediment to realizing these gains is often the ability to adjust public policy to support the timely and efficient deployment of broadband infrastructure.”

The governor said the bill “establishes a process for the co-location of small wireless facilities by communication service providers on state- and county-owned poles,” and is seen as “essential” to the rollout of 5G technology and an “increasing growth and demand for data” by residents and visitors.

Among its updates to existing policy, the bill specifies that the state or county involved in permitting will notify an applicant “within 20 business days of receiving an application” whether it’s complete; shall notify an applicant of the basis for a denial on or before “the day” it’s denied; and opens a 90-day window for the applicant to address deficiencies without an additional fee.

The bill further specifies that applicants seeking to deploy small cell facilities may file a “consolidated application” and get a single permit for the “co-location” of up to 25 small wireless facilities in a three-square-mile radius without having to perform services or provide goods unrelated to the permit — such as in-kind contributions like “reserving fiber, conduit or pole space” for the agency.

Applicants may be required to attest that a small cell facility will be “operational” within a year after a permit is issued. But the state or county “shall not require” placement of small cells on “any specific utility pole or category of poles,” limit small cells “by minimum separation distances” or require multiple antennas to be located on a single pole.

The bill also offers clearly defined dimensions for so-called “micro wireless facilities” and their associated equipment; and specifies the state or county can only charge an application fee if it's required for similar “commercial development or construction;” and shall not charge such a fee if it’s already recovered by existing fees, rates or taxes paid by a communications provider.

In remarks at the signing, state Rep. Dee Morikawa recalled losing cell service during a recent out-of-town vacation, and how unhappy that made a seven-year-old on the trip.

“We want to come up here and relax but it’s so critical that the next generation has access to broadband. And I think that’s why this bill is so important,” Morikawa said.

State Sen. Glenn Wakai said the bill is “key to us growing the economy in the future” and moving beyond an economy centered on agriculture and tourism.

“It’s going to be this muscle that's going to take us into the future, and 5G is such an important part of that evolution of reinventing our economy,” Wakai said at the signing, pointing to his temple. The bill that Ige signed, Wakai said, “wasn’t an easy point to get to,” but epitomized “really good legislation.”

Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, praised Hawaii for joining around 20 other states in passing legislation to promote wireless broadband and small cell deployment. He agreed with Wakai that both sides had compromised to reach agreement, but praised the legislation for creating a streamlined, uniform process.

According to Adelstein, the bill preserves the authority of local governments while setting guidelines to facilitate broadband and small cell rollouts. “I think the legislation will enable us to more quickly meet the demand in deploying this,” he said. “We just don’t have any time for delays given how quickly the demand is growing.”

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.