Digital Economy Evolution
Wednesday - August 01, 2007
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By Cliff Miyake
Vice President and General Manager of Time Warner Telecom (Honolulu Office)
As both a kama’aina and a veteran of the local telecommunications industry, I’ve observed the evolution of Hawaii’s digital economy from its humble beginnings. Our rapid adoption of the Internet and its applications has impacted every aspect of our society from entertainment to education. It’s also changed the way Hawaii people gather information and communicate in fundamental ways.
For example, I remember the era when making a “long distance” phone call was not only an expensive proposition but a big deal. I’m old enough to recall the “pre-satellite” era when as kids we watched canned television news and sporting events from the Mainland brought via airplane.
In just three decades technology transformed our island community and brought us closer to the rest of the planet. While our geographic position remains isolated, there’s no question that we are not the insular plantation society that we used to be.
Thanks to the Internet we can communicate instantly and inexpensively. Long distance calls are no longer a big deal nor are they expensive. So long as you have bandwidth you can dial anywhere in the world with VoiP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology through services such as Skype, which are free of charge. Not only does this allow friends and family to stay in touch, it opens up new markets for Hawaii people by allowing us to more easily do business outside our state.
As citizens of a remote island telecommunications technology ties us intimately with the rest of the globe.
In the old West they used to say that the Colt sixgun was the “great equalizer” in the hands of a small man. Nowadays the Internet levels the playing field for our island community by providing access to instant communication, breaking news and real time financial data that heretofore would be unobtainable to Hawaii citizens.
This level landscape means that Hawaii can play with the big boys in Silicon Valley and the East Coast. However, it also means local entrepreneurs are competing in an international arena with Japan, Singapore, India and Korea.
The Internet in effect, has opened up a global market for Hawaii businesses large and small. Hawaii growers can sell their Kona coffee or guava jelly direct to customers; local musicians such as Charles Brotman can sell music downloads or promote their art with videos on YouTube; and the large local public companies can more easily market their products and services to the Mainland.
As a case and point my friend, Kazu Kawano, operates an Internet-based import/export business (G-Call.com) here in Honolulu. With 300,000 customers both in Hawaii and Japan he provides everything from Minami Uonuma-san Koshihikari rice (rare even in Japan) to a cell phone waiting for you upon arrival in Japan.
In addition to offering a platform for local entrepreneurs like Kazu, the Net also permits technology professionals to do their jobs from Hawaii for operations on the Mainland. It’s not unusual nowadays to have computer programmers or graphic artists living in upcountry Maui or Kauai doing freelance or full-time work remotely for Mainland companies. For example, Ron Saunders, one of my company’s circuit design engineers, is based in Hilo but works exclusively on Time Warner Telecom projects on the Mainland. We don’t have a Hilo office so he does everything remotely from his home office.
In addition, the digital revolution has been a boon to our travel industry. With the Net, everyone from the Sheraton Waikiki to
Big Island Bed and Breakfast in Hilo can market their accommodations with a website or upload a video on YouTube to promote their services. Technology has also given local performers a shot at selling their talents outside of the state. For example, the convergence of IP technology with our local arts and entertainment talent pool allows Hawaii musicians and filmmakers to contribute first-rate programming to an international online audience. This is the latest endeavor of Hawaii filmmaker Edgy Lee, who this fall will be launching an Internet television portal called Pacific Network that will link Hawaii to Hawaiian communities around the nation. Her plan is to provide an alternative to network television news and programming from the greater Hawaiian community. Pacific Network will stream nine channels to provide news, original production, editorials, gallery art, music, radio programs, audience videos and commentary to viewers around the globe. Judging by the success of YouTube and Yahoo! Video, I believe Edgy has tapped one of the fastest growing online trends - producing original programming for the web.
After all, in Hawaii we’ve been creating original music for a long time. Hawaiian music and culture swept the nation in several waves during the 19th and 20th centuries without the Internet. Think of what we can do with the nifty tools that fiber optics affords us.
I’m convinced that as our local economy evolves from mature “old economy” industries such as agriculture and the service sector into an information economy fueled by the Internet, we will also more rapidly develop new technology and life sciences companies.
As access to information and telecommunications become universal, people can live wherever they want. I believe Hawaii will continue to be one of the beneficiaries of this trend. Not only can we attract talent, but we can keep our own homegrown talent here by creating new companies that will provide better paying jobs for our children.
As Hawaii’s leading provider of fiber-optic based of voice, data and Internet communications, I’m proud to say that our company will continue to play a key role in Hawaii’s “innovation” economy. Stay tuned!
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