Frustration Rising On Moloka'i Homesteads Over Slow Internet For Distance Learning, Working At Home

Oct 12, 2020

Even before the pandemic, internet service on Molokaʻi was rarely ideal – spotty coverage, slow speeds and constant buffering. This has become an even bigger frustration for residents on the island’s Hawaiian Home Lands, where service is limited to one embattled telecom provider.

Hoʻolehua Hawaiian homesteader Kui Adolpho says slow internet is just another one of those sacrifices Molokaʻi residents make to enjoy life on the island.

"So we expect delays. I expected lags and, you know, the occasional interruptions. But it got to the point where my children couldn't even get instruction at all," she said.

Frozen screens and constant buffering are a daily ordeal for her three elementary school-aged kids.

Adolpho, too, works from home – adding to the strain on the already limited bandwidth.

"Right now, we have homesteaders who are paying out of pocket for hot spots. And why do we have to do that?"

Adolpho began an online petition to raise awareness about her plight. Something Moloka’i representative Lynn DeCoite has been hearing from homesteaders statewide.

"Anger, frustration, You can't even get through to a live body to talk about what the situation is, or negotiations of how they can have their bills paid, or you can transfer over to another carrier," she said.

But Adolpho’s only choice is Sandwich Isles Communication – a company in deep financial and legal trouble.

Sandwich Isles secured an exclusive license with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in 1995 to bring telecom services to rural, underserved homestead communities. In return, any company wanting to serve homesteaders must use and pay for the infrastructure Sandwich Isles built, which hasn’t exactly worked to the customer’s advantage.

"We need to be provided the opportunity or different options, to have an internet service provider that cares about the people they're providing the service for."

Sandwich Isles said its aware of the problems with internet speed and it’s in negotiations with Spectrum to provide internet in Hoʻolehua.

The problem it says is outdated infrastructure it plans to upgrade. But that could be tough to pull off for a company that currently owes the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Sandwich Isles ran into trouble five years ago when its founder Al Hee was convicted of federal tax fraud and served nearly four years in prison. The company was later stripped of $257 million in assets. Hee now faces nearly $50 million in fines for defrauding the U.S. government.

With mounting debt and hefty fines, the company may be forced to sell this infrastructure.