Winning the race to 5G
© Greg Nash

Many Americans – particularly those who live in rural areas like parts of Kentucky’s Second District – know the challenges of accessing cellular service and broadband in rural areas. A key to improving service with greater coverage, higher speeds, and increased data capacity is the new wireless standard known as 5G. Today there is a global race to be the first among many competing nations to 5G, and one of our top priorities as a member of Congress and a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) is ensuring that next-generation 5G networks come to fruition for the benefit of the American people. We want to ensure the U.S. is at the forefront of this new technology because being first to 5G will provide untold benefits to U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy.

Leading the world in 5G will allow U.S. companies to help shape its future growth, standards, and capabilities – all of which have a tremendous impact on our future economic success. It also will ensure that both urban and rural areas will benefit from the opportunities presented by 5G. After meeting with both consumers and wireless experts in Kentucky this month, we have seen firsthand the importance of the deployment of rural broadband.

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But how do we access the 5G service that will make such a difference for consumers and U.S. companies who are on the cutting edge of this new technology? While both Congress and the Commission must create the appropriate positive regulatory environment for the private sector to undertake the huge capital expenditures critical for success, the secret to success is access to spectrum, the radio frequencies that power all of our wireless technology. We need to remove barriers to opening up more low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum, which are all needed for next generation wireless technology. Each type is important because of their different characteristics; for example, some waves can carry less data further and others carry more data but only over short distances. We are hard at work to provide the right mix of all types of spectrum to keep the U.S. at the forefront of innovation.

First, the Commission – at the direction of the Congress – is leading the charge to make low- and high-band spectrum more available by using auctions to provide market-based incentives. For example, we are nearing the end of the first-of-its-kind incentive auction, which allowed broadcasters to sell highly coveted low-band spectrum to wireless providers who can use the spectrum to improve cellular service and develop new wireless technology. The two of us had the opportunity to meet with broadcasters in Kentucky this month to discuss how this process of relocating their stations to make room for wireless use is working. While we are in an early phase so far, we were glad to hear from broadcasters that this process is on track.

Given the success of this spectrum auction, the Commission will continue to initiate auctions for different high-band spectrum in the coming months. Rep. Guthrie’s Spectrum Deposits Act was signed into law earlier this year, making it possible for the Commission to continue scheduling future spectrum auctions. It is important for the Commission and the Congress to continue advancing spectrum policy that allows the U.S. to keep up with the global race to 5G. Along with low- and high-band spectrum, the FCC is taking important steps to clear and auction mid-band spectrum, which much of the international community is focused on using to develop 5G.

Fortunately, this month the Commission voted to finalize rules in the 3.5 GHz band – a specific mid-band spectrum frequency that is key for wireless broadband use. These new rules were designed to ensure that the band is available to as many users as possible. When we visited with service providers this month, we talked about these new rules and how they will lead to an important spectrum auction that will make it easier for both cable companies and rural wireless carriers to access affordable mid-band spectrum.

Second, we are addressing government barriers to building the necessary infrastructure for new wireless technology. Last month, the Commission tackled the exorbitant fees and prolonged delays that innovators are facing in some states. Collectively, these updated provisions will help facilitate the deployment of 5G and enable providers to expand services throughout the Commonwealth and our nation. These reforms will help ensure that rural areas are not left behind.

Finally, as Congress and the Commission move to increase access to licensed spectrum and streamline permitting processes, we must not forget about the importance of unlicensed spectrum. As we recently highlighted together, unlicensed spectrum is innovation-friendly, permitting the deployment of Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots and many other connected, or “smart,” devices. We are excited the Commission also moved this month to launch a rulemaking that will open up unlicensed services in the 6 GHz band.

Releasing additional spectrum and dealing with government-laid barriers are two important steps in keeping the U.S. on the forefront of 5G, especially in rural areas, but there is more to be done. This month we heard that securing the ability of U.S. industry to win the 5G race is just as important in Kentucky as it is across the country. We will continue to work hard to make this happen.

Congressman Guthrie represents Kentucky’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly serves on the Federal Communications Commission.