Hawaii ISP Sandwich Isles to Shut Down Voice, Internet Service on Saturday

Hawaii Broadband

Sandwich Isles Communications sent an email to Native Hawaiian customers on Thursday saying it was shutting down service on Saturday.

Ted Hearn Hawaii ISP Sandwich Isles to Shut Down Voice, Internet Service on Saturday Photo by Little Plant used with permission

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2024 – A provider of Internet access and other communications services to Native Hawaiians is closing its doors on Saturday, with the company’s founder saying the money-losing operator had no other choice.

The state of Hawaii announced on Friday that Sandwich Isles Communications sent an email yesterday to its 1,500 customers that service would end on June 1, raising public safety concerns with top state officials.

 “Reliable phone and Internet service is a lifeline for our communities. It is unacceptable that Sandwich Isles Communications is planning to disconnect the services that its customers depend on with so little notice,” said Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke in a statement Friday. “We strongly urge Sandwich Isles Communications to transition Hawaiian Home Lands lessees to alternate service providers in an orderly and responsible process.”

SIC founder Al Hee told Broadband Breakfast on Friday night that customers would lose access to Internet and landline phone service but not mobile phone service. He said SIC’s customer count was well above 1,500.

SIC has had a contract with the state’s Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to provide communications services to Hawaiian homelands, areas held in trust for Native Hawaiians by the state of Hawaii.

Hee said SIC was closing “because we are losing money and we have been for the last five-plus years. I am not going to lose any more money.”

SIC has also been engaged in a long-running dispute with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the $150 million balance on an infrastructure loan that Hee said SIC was expecting to pay down with financial support from the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund but was cut off.

He said losing access to USF funding in 2015 was “tied into” an FCC investigation that resulted in a $49.6 million fine against SIC and Hee over improper use of USF financial support.

Diamond Badajos, Information and Community Relations Officer for the DHHL, told Broadband Breakfast on Friday night that the state found troubling that the SIC situation could create a public safety risk if hundreds can’t call 911.

“That’s certainly a concern,” Badajos said.

DHHL has been advising SIC customers for a while to find Internet service with Hawaiian Telcom or Charter Communications. Badajos did not know how many SIC customers had already found a new provider. Hee said only 50 percent of SIC customers today had access to Hawaiian Telcom or Spectrum.

On Friday night, Charter sent out a press release announcing the launch of Spectrum voice services in Hawaiian Home Lands, saying current residential Spectrum Internet customers could receive Spectrum Voice for $14.99 for 12 months.

“Spectrum currently offers Spectrum Internet with speeds up to 1 Gig, Spectrum Mobile, and Spectrum TV to thousands on the Hawaiian Home Lands,” the company said.

DHHL is also making SIC customers aware of satellite Internet service provided by Starlink. The Hawaii government, she said, has no plans to rush Starlink terminals to SIC customers. DHHL is also promoting Dish’s satellite Internet service as an option.

In a May 30 email to customers, SIC said it needed help from DHHL to continue to offer service but was not getting it.

“Although we are still in communication with the federal government about this problem, DHHL has refused to participate in a global solution. It appears they would rather see SIC close shop than ensure your continued service,” the email said.

Badajos said, “We really don’t want to get into any slinging match with Al [Hee].