OPINION: Momentum Behind 5G Needs Support From State And Local Policymakers


Steve Pociask and Liam Sigaud American Consumer Institute
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When historians look back at the arc of human history, a few landmark events stand out: the invention of agriculture; the harnessing of electricity; and, more recently, the birth of the internet.

One turning point that will soon be added to the list of internet innovations will be the rollout of next-generation 5G technology.

5G marks a paradigm shift in broadband communications. While previous wireless technologies like the 3G and 4G networks our smartphones depend on allow us to connect instantly with people across the globe, 5G will connect us to things as well as people, creating a unified connectivity fabric that will revolutionize how we live and work.

Consider how 5G will change how we travel. Self-driving cars communicating seamlessly to improve carpooling, avoid traffic congestion, prevent collisions, and eliminate parking problems. Packages from online retailers delivered by drones, cutting shipping times down from days to hours or even minutes.

In health care, 5G will enable more precise, personalized care by leveraging real-time data. Remote monitoring, powered by sophisticated diagnostic algorithms, will help identify health problems sooner, improving outcomes and reducing downstream hospital costs. Telemedicine, a lifeline for many rural residents, will become more accessible as network connections are upgraded. For patient safety, telesurgery with robots depend on low-latency broadband services that appear to be instantaneous.

But it’s not just transportation and health care. In industries from public safety to education, 5G promises to transform how the world works. Moreover, 5G will enable new products and services that have yet to be invented or even pondered. Some have predicted that 5G will spark the Fourth Industrial Revolution as novel technologies create unprecedented productivity growth.

Deployment of 5G networks in the United States is expected to generate $533 billion in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and $1.2 trillion consumer benefits according to an analysis by the American Consumer Institute.

The research confirms that explosions in U.S. wireless connections and data traffic are driving increased consumer demand for faster and more robust wireless networks.

Other studies indicate that 5G technology could produce $1.8 trillion in savings over seven years, while self-driving cars and connected devices for health applications could produce annual economic benefits of $447 billion and $305 billion, respectively.

Of course, 5G networks can’t be built overnight. The heart of a nationwide 5G network relies on millions of shoebox-sized devices called “small cells” that will process and transmit wireless data at lightning speeds.

These small cells will need to be installed to utility poles, street lights, bridges, and other infrastructure in neighborhoods across the country -—in all 50 states, 3,000 counties, and tens of thousands of local jurisdictions. Across many jurisdictions, there are lengthy permitting processes, no harmony in regulations and a wide range in fees.

Therein lies the problem. One jurisdiction charged 50 times the FCC rate to allow a pole attachment; another wanted $45,000 for access to the rights-of-way regardless of the use, and still another imposed an outright moratorium on small cell deployment.

These actions deter broadband investment and deny consumers the benefits of 5G services. Accelerating deployment requires harmonized rules, reasonable fees and permit approvals that are deemed granted after a specified period of time.

With all of this in mind, building out a nationwide 5G network will be a gargantuan logistical and financial task, and smart government regulations are needed to help the process go smoothly. A number of states have passed legislation to harmonize their permitting processes and accelerate deployment, but most states have not. More needs to be done.

To that end, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently taken some positive steps to clear the way for 5G buildout by eliminating unnecessary red tape from state and local governments that add to installation costs and deter investment.

The FCC has also made progress toward freeing up more of the airwaves to give 5G networks the spectrum they need to send and receive massive amounts of information more quickly and over longer distances.

Policymakers at all levels of government need to do their part to advocate for sensible policies that minimize red tape and ensure that 5G can be rolled out quickly and efficiently.

Every community in the United States, no matter how large or small, stands to benefit from this state-of-the-art broadband connectivity. Consumers deserve better.

Liam Sigaud and Steve Pociask are with the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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Steve Pociask and Liam Sigaud