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Strengthening Service to Those Lacking Digital Access

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

One of the many things that drew me to public broadcasting was its commitment to universal access to education. In a time of increasing income disparity, this tenet is more timely than ever.  Long before COVID-19 shut  down schools, PBS Hawai‘i has routinely served rural and other under-resourced communities that lack digital access (Wi-Fi).

Our over-the-air broadcast network reaches farther than that of local commercial television broadcasters, which find it unprofitable to build the same  level of infrastructure.  For us, it’s a matter of mission. Even though we’re also firmly planted in the digital world, we  think it’s important that residents  of 25 of the 25 most financially disadvantaged communities in the state can receive both our main channel and our curriculum-based PBS KIDS 24/7 channel without having to pay for Wi-Fi, cable TV or satellite service.

All they need is an antenna to receive our programming. The signal is relayed over the air from one inconspicuous transmitter to the next and to the next. Before the novel coronavirus struck unexpectedly, PBS Hawai‘i began beefing up this transmitter network. With the support of donors including The Doyle Foundation, McInerny Foundation, Bendon Family Foundation and T-Mobile Foundation, our Chief Engineer John Nakahira is in the process of replacing and strengthening 11 translators (junior transmitters) on multiple islands. And he’s outfitting our high-power transmitters on O‘ahu and Maui with new modulators that improve audio and video signals.

Among places we particularly aimed to boost service:  the remote area of South Point on Hawai‘i Island and communities like Miloli‘i and Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. To do this, Chief John arranged for our broadcast signal to be delivered to Na‘alehu directly from our O‘ahu facilities via fiber optic cable. From Na‘alehu, the signal is relayed over  the air to South Point.

“In the past,” John explains, “the signal would pass through six transmitter relay points on Maui and Hawai‘i Island before finally getting to South Point.” Weather and power issues disproportionately affected South Point. Not anymore!  Generous public support helped cover the cost of fiber-optic installation, and we make monthly cable payments to support the service. In this time of serious income disparity, PBS Hawai‘i  intends to continue delivering mind-nourishing programs 24 hours a day, regardless of viewers’ ability to pay.

Aloha nui,

Leslie signature