Streamlining regulation will pave the way for a 5G future

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Autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, robotics, wearables and virtual reality are just a few of the emerging technologies that may soon be a part of our everyday lives. Fourth generation (4G) networks are already overloaded, and this new generation of technology will need faster and more reliable connectivity. Fifth generation (5G) wireless technology will help usher in this new era of innovation.

5G wireless speeds will be 10 times faster than what we know today. But 5G isn’t just about being able to load a movie on Netflix faster, it will completely revolutionize our world. Imagine sailing the world on a 3D-printed driverless boat or a doctor performing surgery on a patient on the other side of the world via robot. 5G will support technologies that will totally change life as we know it.

{mosads}Building 5G infrastructure, though, has proven difficult. Our country’s antiquated and mismatched regulatory system is the number one roadblock stopping the U.S. from a major technological leap. To make sure we don’t fall behind in the race to 5G, Americans must come together in support of immediate deployment of 5G infrastructure.


5G relies on small cells. Rather than a erecting a 200-foot cell phone tower, small cells are the size of backpacks and are attached to existing structures like streetlights. Unfortunately, the rules were written for a world of 200-foot cell phone towers and navigating a web of regulations spun for old infrastructure is tricky. Our current system has made new, small cell deployment extremely expensive and slow.

Towns and municipalities are exacerbating the already sluggish and costly process by charging Internet service providers (ISPs) at an exorbitant rate to install small cells. Local politicians are saying they just want to retain local decision-making rights, but unreasonably high fees bring their motives into question. City governments are often slow to approve building permits or refusing to grant permission all together. ISPs are going through the regulatory ringer with local governments who seem to care more about milking them of their money rather than helping America move forward.

One can imagine the nearly impossible task ahead of the companies willing to invest in 5G if the current rules remain. They would be forced to play an expensive game of regulatory hopscotch across the states, building small cells here, but not there—and waiting on permits that may never be approved. Such legal uncertainty would make it difficult for anyone to build anything across the entire country, let alone small cells, which must be placed close together to work properly. The only way to overcome this serious problem is to streamline the legal process for deployment.

Streamlining can be accomplished by simplifying and clarifying ISPs’ ability to deploy small cells while maintaining safe and sensible rules across state lines. The Federal Communications Commission’s vote to streamline the small cell approval process back in March is a positive first step, but some local officials harbor reservations about the path to 5G. I encourage local officials to deeply consider the great promise 5G holds for our nation’s future and to support the future wireless economy, just as many other countries around the world are doing. Infrastructure is the backbone of our nation’s economy and it must be a priority if we want to remain competitive in the global economy.

5G is about human progress and doing what’s best for the common good of our nation. Failing to adopt a simpler legal process will only undermine regulatory certitude, risk millions in investments made by private companies, and hinder economic growth.

To that end, elected officials in Washington would do well to work toward establishing a regulatory framework that balances legitimate local interests with the need to fast track 5G deployment. Ultimately, the two goals are not mutually exclusive — streamlined regulations across the country that will not only facilitate the rapid deployment of ISPs, but will also ensure that local municipalities receive the fair treatment they deserve.

The 5G future is inevitable and it’s time for Americans to come together in support of quick and efficient small cell deployment. Together, we can lead the global charge in ushering in a new era of technological progress.

Albert Wynn is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 4th District of Maryland. He currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition, which is a a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments. Wynn is also a senior director at Greenberg Traurig, which is a lobbying firm, which advocates for a number of different entities, including technology companies.

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