To meet the exploding demand for wireless data and spur new innovations like driverless cars, Smart Cities, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, service providers have turned to the next generation of wireless technology, 5G.
With lower latency and internet speeds at least ten times faster than current 4G networks, 5G will unlock possibilities thought impossible just a few years ago and deliver enormous benefits to American consumers. One study in 2017 estimated that smart grids, health applications, and other innovations based on 5G technology could deliver trillions of dollars in benefits to Americans.
In addition, a study conducted by the American Consumer Institute, where I work, estimates that building out West Virginia’s 5G wireless service will deliver significant economic benefits to the state, including a $2.2 billion increase in gross state product over a 7-year period and the creation of nearly 2,000 jobs per year. These figures only capture the economic benefits of constructing West Virginia’s 5G infrastructure. Once it becomes operational, the network is estimated to deliver at least $5.8 billion in ongoing consumer benefits in the state.
The task of transitioning to 5G technology requires wireless providers to shift their focus from deploying large wireless towers to building a network of hundreds of thousands of small cell antennas, some the size of a shoe box, installed in high-traffic areas. In many areas, the process to upgrade wireless infrastructure is daunting and fraught with financial risk.
Companies working to establish 5G networks throughout the country are faced with a host of state and local regulations that cause delays and impose unnecessary costs. Companies must navigate outdated rules, convoluted permit approval processes, deployment moratoria, and high fees. Regulatory requirements often vary from one locality to the next, forcing companies to contend with inconsistent policies — and with 3,000 counties and 20,000 incorporated places in the U.S., it’s easy to see how complying with all these rules can be time-consuming and expensive. This red tape discourages investment in 5G and deprives consumers of state-of-the-art wireless services.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took important steps last year to streamline the deployment of 5G small cells nationwide, but state-level barriers still impede a timely rollout. While some carriers are expected to make 5G available in parts of the country later this year, policymakers in West Virginia have not moved fast enough to remove regulatory hurdles to this technology.
A growing number of states have recognized the value that 5G technology will bring to their communities and are enacting reforms to streamline their regulatory processes. But West Virginia seems stuck in the past with regulations that increase the cost, risk, and timeline of 5G deployment. As a result, consumers are at risk of losing out on investment, jobs, innovations, and other benefits unless policymakers create a more favorable regulatory environment.
Legislation recently introduced in the West Virginia Legislature would remove regulatory hurdles across the state and eliminate unnecessary red tape, allowing service providers to build out 5G networks in a timely and cost-effective manner. West Virginians should demand that their representatives act swiftly to approve this legislation.