Bridge Span 17-10: 5G is Coming If Government Will Allow It

Twenty-first century infrastructure is needed for the benefit of the economy and the taxpayers. This notion may have been one of the more agreed upon policy ideas of last year’s presidential race. A key piece to determining to invest in infrastructure is to consider future needs so that investments are future oriented, not just adequate for today’s demands. Where communications and broadband are concerned the future is clear — moving from our current 4G communications standard to 5G, the next generation of mobile standards.

5g is not simply a new communications system, but rather is a system of systems that will work with previous technologies, but will also require new infrastructure. That new infrastructure will include thousands and thousands of small antennas the size of a pizza box placed throughout the country, as well as new investments in fiber, cell towers and base stations. The mash up of existing and new technologies will include wi-fi and new bandwidths, as well as improvements in both wireless and wired connections to complete the communications loop. This ubiquity of high speeds, a hundred times faster than 4G, will enable more of everything we already value from broadband and create greater opportunity for promised technological advancements such as the ubiquity of virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, remote surgery, tactile real-time feedback for robotics and self-driving vehicles.

But such a move is not easy. More spectrum and large investments in infrastructure are needed. A certain and stable environment is necessary as investment tends to avoid going places where it faces massive taxes and regulations. But when elected officials and regulators pare back those taxes and regulations investment flows. Some have estimated that investments will soar — $275 billion, creating 3 million jobs and driving GDP up by $500 billion, all while benefiting customers with lower prices and faster access.

To make the promise of tomorrow’s communications system real, the FCC has already been acting by making higher levels of spectrum available and streamlining the federal regulatory process. But now more is needed.

Fortunately, a draft solution is circulating in Washington that will provide additional clearance for 5G to move forward. Senators John Thune of South Dakota and Brian Schatz of Hawaii are preparing to introduce legislation to help the U.S. stay the leader in communications standards by requiring state and local governments to end arbitrary delays in permitting which has allowed requests for the expansion of communications infrastructure to molder.

Their proposal would prohibit the restrictions on government owned facilities, such as poles and rights-of-way, to be used for citing of antennas or other infrastructure. Also, all requests to local governments for equipment installation will have to be acted on within 60 to 90 days or be considered approved. Of course, the local government may decide to deny the request but must do so in a timely manner and for a legitimate reason. And while the local governments are guaranteed the right to charge reasonable rates for such access, the legislation would end the practice in some places of the costs of permits being raised as a means for greater revenue grab. Arbitrary restrictions and delays are simply barriers to broadband deployment and hence to the necessary investments. The thinking must turn to building long term value creation rather than allowing poor government decisions to reduce the value for all.

And new rules must be technologically neutral – all technologies should be able to compete on an even playing field to serve customers as best they can through innovation, price competitiveness and customer service, amongst other things. Government should not design an uneven field. We cannot return to the days of hold up schemes which routinely led to communities shaking down service providers to provide parks, remodeling of government buildings and even providing hanging baskets of flowers to line Main Street. Global competition will not wait for such antics, and America will lose as when innovation investment here is too challenging it simply moves elsewhere.

Clearing the field for greater investment, a better GDP and more jobs will soon be in the hands of Congress. A near term 5G 21st century infrastructure reality is theirs for the making.

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