Lincoln Journal-Star: Legislation Would Unleash 5G in Nebraska

Over the last two decades, the power and connectivity of mobile devices have taken unimaginable strides. Whether you use a smartphone to shop online, track your exercise regime with a smartwatch, make a doctor’s appointment, or play music using Wi-Fi-connected speakers, these devices have revolutionized the way we live, play, and work. And it’s just the beginning.

The next generation of wireless technology, called 5G, will unlock new possibilities in medicine, transportation, construction, communication, and countless other areas of life. Upgrading the nation’s wireless communications infrastructure to 5G will mean lower latency and broadband speeds at least ten times faster than what today’s 4G networks offer.

A study conducted by the American Consumer Institute, estimates that building out Nebraska’s 5G wireless service will deliver significant economic and consumer benefits to the state, including a $2.7 billion increase in gross state product over a 7-year period and the creation of more than 2,500 jobs during each year of its construction.

These figures ignore the thousands of new jobs that will be created once these wireless broadband networks operate. We estimate additional consumer benefits will top $7 billion dollars. Another study estimated that these next generation networks will enable smart grids, new health applications – with the potential to deliver trillions of dollars in additional benefits across the country.

The process of building the infrastructure needed to support 5G capabilities is a gargantuan task. While current 4G wireless technology relies on tens of thousands of large cell towers, 5G will operate on a network of potentially millions of small cell antennas, most as tiny as a shoe box, installed in neighborhoods throughout the country.

However, wireless service companies operating in Nebraska face a myriad state and local regulations. Outdated rules, delays in permit approval, and high fees are just some of the barriers wireless companies must navigate. Regulatory requirements often vary from locality to locality, slowing down deployment efforts and unnecessarily raising the cost. In effect, regulations and fees can vary across the state’s 93 counties and 460 townships.

For example, the cost of deploying a host of 5G antennas into existing streetlights and public poles can quickly become prohibitive and derail state-of-the-art wireless broadband investments, as is currently the case in Lincoln, where investors face a $1,500 permitting fee per antenna, along with an annual $1,500 attachment fee.

The empirical evidence shows that these fees impede investment. For example, a similar dearth of 5G investment once faced San Jose before it dropped its annual fee from the thousands of dollars to just $175, according to one Federal Communications Commission filing. Next door in Iowa, Des Moines provides another example of where investments increased soon after reforms were instituted. While some over twenty states have passed legislation to remove barriers to 5G deployment, Nebraska has not and, as a result, could soon fall behind. But that may soon change.

Introduced by state Senator’s Friesen and Lowe, Legislative Bill 184 (The Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act) would harmonize procedures, rates and fees across the state and eliminate unnecessary red tape, allowing service providers to build out 5G broadband networks in a timely and cost-effective way.

For the sake of consumers, lawmakers should act quickly to approve this legislation to ensure that Nebraskans reap the benefits of this next generation technology.

Published in the Lincoln Journal-Star

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