The FCC’s 5G Plan Deserves 5 Stars

This week, 5G will be front and center as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will take up a plan to eliminate regulatory barriers for deployment and the White House will hold a summit to address spectrum, infrastructure, and technical standards. While it will require many different forms of communications technologies such as satellite and cable to bridge the digital divide, 5G promises to revolutionize how people and devices connect. It is critical that our leaders promote policies that encourage the deployment of cutting-edge communications equipment.

What is 5G and why does it matter?

5G is what its name implies – it is the fifth generation of mobile communications networks. 5G technology will increase data transfer speeds and enable networks to carry more data with decreased lag times.

In order to achieve maximum performance, 5G technology will rely upon small cells, many of which are the size of a pizza box or hockey puck, to be deployed more widely than traditional large cell towers. The combination of these benefits have the potential to be a game changer for both technological advancements as well as the economy at large.

According to one study, 5G technology has the potential this decade to stimulate over $275 billion in investment, which could lead to three million new jobs and at least $500 billion in GDP growth. To understand the stakes of wireless policy on an international level, it is estimated that the United States reaped over $100 billion annually because of its leadership in the previous generation of wireless – 4G. The United States continues to compete with nations such as China and South Korea over 5G, and it is vital that America has the right policies in place in order to promote its continued global leadership.

5G will impact nearly every industry

Next generation wireless technology will help alleviate the growing demand for mobile data. In fact, it is estimated that mobile data traffic worldwide will increase seven-fold by 2021. Not only will you be able to download movies faster on your phone or have better connection through video messaging because of 5G, next generation wireless technology will impact nearly every major industry in the United States.

  • The manufacturing sector will benefit greatly from the use of 5G. For example, manufacturers will be able to more efficiently produce goods. Next generation technology will enable the use of augmented and virtual reality to maintain and repair production equipment.  
  • 5G will also impact travel of the future, as connected and autonomous vehicles will employ advanced wireless capabilities. While driverless cars will not necessarily require 5G to safely operate, next generation wireless can improve vehicle-to-vehicle communications which could help reduce travel times while increasing energy efficiency.
  • Due to improved latency, 5G also holds the promise of providing greater medical care to underserved communities that lack mobility, as doctors will be able to provide improved telemedicine opportunities to patients. 
  • Municipalities will more easily transition into becoming smart cities, as 5G will also help connect the sensors that enable the Internet of Things to make citizens safer. For example, Microsoft and partners developed technology that alerts emergency dispatchers once a law enforcement officer removes a gun from its holster

How the FCC is working to make 5G deployment a reality

Earlier this month in Indianapolis, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced a plan to reduce regulatory barriers to 5G deployment on a local and state level. This comes on the heels of the announcement of an earlier plan to streamline small cell permitting on federal lands.

Commissioner Carr’s new plan, which will be voted on by the commission today, would cap state and local governments’ ability to charge fees to site small wireless facilities on public rights of way at a level commensurate with the actual costs of siting and processing applications. This is a commonsense approach that is needed because many localities are currently charging wireless providers fees designed for traditional large cell towers.

While these fees may generate short-term revenue for localities, they work to deprive a municipality’s citizens of the economic and technological benefits of 5G and small cells because they inhibit deployment. How do they inhibit deployment? Since 5G will require the installation of many more small wireless facilities on more locations than traditional cell service, it can be cost prohibitive to deploy equipment if fees are too high. According to one FCC filing, localities are charging thousands of dollars per pole to site small cell equipment.

Given the benefits of 5G, not only does it make economic sense to eliminate onerous siting fees for small cells, Commissioner Carr’s plan also enjoys legal support. In 2006, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 could prohibit localities from charging communications siting fees not related to the costs of maintaining public rights of way. 

Eliminating other burdensome communications fees

It is also worth noting that 5G is one part of a larger communications ecosystem in America. 5G will also rely on traditional wired connections, and another item on the commissioner’s docket this week is aimed at alleviating local regulatory burdens on cable operators. The commission plans to initiate a rulemaking to prohibit localities from adding layers of regulatory red tape imposed on cable operators that provide services like internet access. This too is the right way to help bridge the digital divide.

The U.S. Chamber has long supported reforming the fees that states and localities can charge for both wireless and wireline communications facilities and applauds the work the ccommission is doing to connect all Americans.