Economic benefits of 5G in a post-COVID world
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American’s day-to-day lives have changed significantly in 2020. Some changes like school closures may be temporary but others like remote work are likely here to stay and will become our new normal. Whether it be for business meetings, family video chats, virtual doctor appointments or distance learning, more Americans are relying on broadband and wireless networks to stay connected than ever before, as the nation deals with the COVID-19 crisis.

As we look into the future, it is evident that investing in building these strong communication networks, in particular next-generation wireless networks or 5G, will be as crucial than ever to American success. However, that outcome and the consumer benefits that would result will not easily materialize without the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) streamlining unnecessary regulatory roadblocks to small cell deployment, as well as keeping its vital spectrum auctions on schedule.

Over the last few years, American companies and the FCC have taken some great steps forward to build out our 5G network. The FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s “5G Fast Plan” has a three-pronged strategy for ensuring America wins the race to 5G, namely: new spectrum auctions to fuel wireless networks, updating infrastructure policies, and modernizing outdated regulations. The Commission has delivered on all three with orders streamlining obsolete rules and re-allocating spectrum to its highest and best use.

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Spectrum auctions, in particular, are crucial to ensuring that not only American companies are able to purchase the resources they need to build a 5G network but also to bring in much needed revenue to the Treasury. Over $2.2 trillion in federal relief money has been appropriated to date but even more financial support will likely be needed as we begin to recover from this public health crisis. Spectrum auctions are a bipartisan way to offset some of those relief efforts while simultaneously investing in the U.S. economy.

Chairman Pai has already scheduled an auction of crucial mid-band spectrum called the C-band this fall. The auction could generate up to $50 billion in revenue. While the FCC is juggling many responsibilities to keep all consumers connected during this crisis, it is imperative this auction continue on schedule.

American wireless companies lag behind European and Asian competitors in mid-band spectrum resources, often thought of as the sweet spot for 5G deployment. This fall auction will bring in much needed support for the Treasury, as well as provide American companies with the spectrum assets they need to compete effectively in the race to deploy next generation wireless broadband networks.

And it is a race worth winning. 5G networks, once fully implemented, will create 3 million American jobs and add $500 million to the economy, two items that cannot come soon enough as U.S. unemployment rises to the highest levels ever recorded. Further, as we saw in the deployment of 4G networks, the country with the first mover advantage reaps the benefits, spawning unimaginably new apps, innovative products and services, and promising new markets. American consumers and workers will be the big winners.

Today, smartphones have become a primary way for consumers to access the internet and bridge the digital divide, and it is by far the way most low-income consumers access the internet. With the importance of broadband services in telework, videoconferencing, telemedicine, distance learning, navigation and so on, a robust and fast broadband service is so crucial to our daily lives.

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Now at a time when it has never been more important for America to be connected, we must take advantage of this opportunity to recognize the importance of 5G to consumers and the economy, and work to make it a reality. Actions by the FCC such as the upcoming C-band auction as well as the June vote on additional streamlining of small cell deployments are all steps in the right direction. To start the ball rolling, the FCC needs to get its job done and stay on time. Then, its up to wireless providers to commit to investing billions in order to accelerate the deployment of these services to consumers.

America has the opportunity to take the lead in this global 21st century race; the momentum is there and consumers demand it, let us not let it go to waste.

Steve Pociask is president/CEO of the American Consumer Institute and chair of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee. The views expressed here are solely his own. For more information on the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.