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Dhhl urges immediate switch from sandwich isles

Dhhl urges immediate switch from sandwich isles

Immediate Switch

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) is warning homestead customers of Sandwich Isles Communications to switch phone and internet service providers immediately. Up to 1,500 households and businesses on Hawaiian Home Lands statewide could soon lose service from Sandwich Isles. Sandwich Isles has been the exclusive telecom provider for DHHL since 1995. But the company ran into legal and financial troubles in 2015. It now faces foreclosure by the federal government over an unpaid loan. Two years ago, DHHL said it would lift the exclusivity clause with Sandwich Isles. This allows homesteaders to choose from other providers like Hawaiian Telcom and Spectrum. DHHL recommends that residents contact these other service providers to see if they offer service at their address. The DHHL website has updates on its broadband program and more resources for beneficiaries. “It would be a life-and-death situation,” said Valerie Namauu, who lives on the Kahikinui homestead on Maui. In some remote areas, there are few alternatives to Sandwich Isles. “Yeah, we can switch, but switch to who? That’s the question,” Namauu added.

Homesteaders face imminent telecom switch

The situation got worse after Sandwich Isles founder Albert Hee, brother of former state senator Clayton Hee, went to prison for filing false tax returns. This put customer connectivity at risk. “It’s already a big problem with my cell phone not working and not having the house phone,” said Namauu. “It’s a problem. It’s a big problem.”

Charmaine Kailipaka-Day lives on the slopes of Haleakala. “I’m really far up there and there’s nothing up here,” she said. “The emergency services cannot reach us, so without our phone — our lifeline — it is definitely dangerous.”

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State officials say the risk is even higher after natural disasters like the recent Lahaina fires. “Shame on the state for not being prepared, knowing something like this had been talked about, especially with Sandwich Isles for a long time,” said Sen. Lynn DeCoite. “We were not prepared and we failed them. We are putting lives at risk, especially in these isolated areas.”

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) says it is looking at the best way to fix this problem. DHHL is working with state, federal, and private groups to keep service outages to a minimum and make sure its beneficiaries still have access.

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