The next generation of wireless broadband services, a potentially gigabit speed service called 5G, promises not only to increase the speed of video and data downloads, but also to unlock new possibilities in agriculture, banking, transportation, medicine and countless other areas of life.
Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, including Nebraska, state lawmakers have thus far failed to remove red tape and outdated rules that stand in the way of the speedy deployment in municipal areas, and therefore the benefits of 5G broadband services.
However, early this year, Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen introduced pro-consumer legislation (LB389), which is now pending before the Nebraska Legislature. The bill seeks to modernize, streamline and harmonize local permitting and siting of small wireless cells, while allowing reasonable compensation for access to the local rights-of-way and controls to local authorities.
Unlike previous generations of wireless services that relied on a few large wireless towers to cover a wide service area, 5G services are based on a network of small cell microsites that are installed throughout high-traffic areas. This dense network of small cells will enable wireless providers to boost network capacity and deliver faster download speeds and lower latency.
5G wireless broadband services will deliver enormous benefits to American consumers and help grow the economy. A recent study conducted by the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research estimates that 5G wireless service has the potential to deliver dramatic economic and consumer benefits to Nebraskans, including a $2.7 billion increase in gross state product over a seven-year period and create thousands of jobs per year.
It’s important to note that these figures only reflect the benefits from the investment to build and deploy these 5G services in Nebraska; they do not take into account the ongoing benefits consumers would enjoy once the network became operational.
In fact, once built, 5G technology has the potential to provide more than $7 billion in additional consumer welfare benefits to Nebraskans, improving their lives in countless ways. One study in 2017 estimated that the adoption of smart grids, health applications, and other programs could deliver trillions of dollars in additional benefits across the entire country.
Unfortunately, due to local government regulations in some parts of Nebraska, the task of deploying 5G networks is often daunting. Onerous rules, delays in approval, deployment moratoria and the imposition of high fees represent just some of the barriers wireless companies face. Combined, these policies will reduce investment in 5G and deprive consumers of state-of-the-art wireless services.
But it will take state legislation to ensure that wireless providers don’t run into any roadblocks when they want to bring this technology throughout Nebraska. Fortunately, Sen. Friesen’s bill, currently pending before the Nebraska Legislature, will do the job.
Nebraska is not alone in trying to encourage investment, jobs and better broadband wireless services. Last year, 12 states passed laws to harmonize and streamline regulations, and more than states have introduced bills this year. Just a couple weeks ago, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced his push to streamline wireless infrastructure rules on federal properties.
These investments, benefits and jobs will go elsewhere if Nebraska fails to act.
Nebraska shouldn’t wait. Lawmakers should adopt this pro-consumer legislation, which will eliminate unnecessary red tape and allow wireless service providers to deploy 5G technology in a timely and cost-effective manner.
If Nebraska does not act soon, it will not be 5G ready, and it will fall behind in the race for next-generation wireless broadband services. Nebraskans deserve better than that.
Liam Sigaud and Steve Pociask write for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization.