By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Tiny historic Honokaa is poised to become the first totally Wi-Fi town on Hawaii Island, as the business community works with the county to install hardware enabling everyone there to tap into free Internet.
The rural town, population about 2,300, is looking for a new way to generate business for its shops and restaurants, now that a recently upgraded Saddle Road is redirecting more Hilo-Kona cross-island traffic away from the Hamakua coast.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, in a resolution unanimously approved by the Hawaii County Council last week, donated $1,000 from her district contingency fund for four Cisco Meraki boxes that will be mounted on participating businesses. The Honokaa Business Association has agreed to manage and maintain the technology.
“We’re looking at ways for tourists to visit our small town,” Poindexter said. “A town as a hot spot.”
Poindexter hopes the free Wi-Fi will bring travelers off the highway and down to the business strip, where they’ll stop in for a bite at a local restaurant or browse the shops while browsing the Internet or checking their email on their laptops and mobile devices.
The boxes should be purchased and installed before the July 1 end of the fiscal year.
Businesses offering the Internet connections for the Meraki boxes will get free advertising space on the Wi-Fi system.
Former business association President W. Augustuz Elliott of Hamakua Coast Realty said he thinks a similar system will be set up in Pahoa. He referred questions about the details of the projects to current President Ron Thiel.
Thiel said the four Meraki boxes are sufficient to cover the entire business strip in Honokaa. Future plans will extend the coverage into residential areas.
“This is a beginning stage,” Thiel said.
Calls to the state Office of Information Management, which is working on a strategic plan for statewide information technology, were not returned by press time.
But Hawaii County Council members are enthusiastic about the plan.
“That sounds great,” said Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.