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Local Telecom Company Emerging As Potential Successor To Sandwich Isles

Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

The embattled Sandwich Isles Communications may soon need to sell off its statewide telecommunications network to pay off mounting federal debt. Another local telecom company is emerging as a potential successor to provide services on Hawaiian Home Lands.

Pacific Network Holdings President and CEO Bob Maloney has been in the telecom business for more than 40 years. He watched Sandwich Isles Communications founder Al Hee do what he says few in the telecommunications business were willing to do at the time.

“In spite of everything else he?s done that people take a dim view of, what he’s left behind is a collection of telecom infrastructure assets that really are first quality,” said Maloney.

Sandwich Isles built an undersea fiber optic cable network and installed nearly 200 miles of underground infrastructrure needed to connect the entire state of Hawai?i. But legal and financial trouble may soon force a sale of these assets. Maloney says his company is ready to bid on it.

“First of all, we believe the best case for Hawai?i is that ownership and control of these rather unique assets remain in local hands, number one,” says Maloney, “And number two, that the assets be open to benefit the rest of the state as well.”    

Since Sandwich Isles began in the mid-90s, its focus has been on bringing telecom services to rural, underserved Hawaiian Home Lands communities. That infrastructure currently serves about 3,600 Hawaiian homestead households statewide but the potential is even greater.

Sandwich Isles ran into trouble five years ago when Al Hee was convicted of federal tax fraud. Ensuing litigation stripped the company of its undersea cable network, which is set to be auctioned off. While most of its remaining land-based infrastructure is awaiting foreclosure by the U.S. Justice Department to pay off $139 million in federal debt.

“We don’t know yet when exactly the Department of Justice is going to actually foreclose on those assets,” said Maloney. “Obviously when they do, that’ll be like the last nail in Sandwich Isles’ coffin.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Communications Commission says Hawaiian homestead customers should not expect any service interruptions. Regardless of what happens, FCC would not allow an end to Sandwich Isles services unless another company was ready to take over.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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