The next generation of broadband, 5G, runs as a wireless service about 70 times faster than today’s broadband network. The 5G network capacity will accommodate far more connections that are available today. In the wider community, 5G will support the operation of driverless vehicles to transport people and goods. Telemedicine will operate between clinics, patients and physicians with crisp video, sound, telemetry and secure patient records transport. More of us will work from home, taking advantage of shared project databases and full video connections with our coworkers and clients.
5G will carry video, voice, monitoring data, and industrial signaling for coordination of manufacturing processes. 5G will support home security and home services management. It will allow families to control temperature, lighting, air flow, entry access, alarm control, visual monitoring, conversations between rooms and family members or between devices and people off premises.
What used to be appointment TV and movies will morph into TV and movies at your convenience. Educational courseware will continue its migration into education on your schedule, probably orchestrated by a robotic tutor with great patience. Rare for education, the cost and administrative burden should trend lower. These applications will be possible due to the low latency, huge capacity, and high speed of 5G networks.
Nationwide, the $326 billion of 5G infrastructure investment is underway. It should be completed by 2026, but only a small part is in place so far in Pennsylvania. The 5G network uses fiber optic trunk lines (so called “backhaul”) that connect it to the internet, other network types, communities, and cities. Those fiber optic lines are, in turn, connected to local area networks that are centered on about one million shoebox-sized devices called “small cells” that process and transmit wireless data at lightning speeds. The small cells are attached to power or telephone poles or attached to the side of buildings.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is helping by making available appropriate spectrum for those small cells. It plans for spectrum auctions later this year for the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz spectrum bands. The new spectrum will carry signals between the small cells.
Because a few state and local jurisdictions were taking inordinate lengths of time to approve small cell placements, the FCC has suggested a shot clock approach, and batch processing to trim the time that commissions allot themselves for review and approval of permits. Likewise, a few jurisdictions invented outrageously high fees that would apply to a small cell siting and a right of way permit. Some commissioners sought local right of way fees as high as $45,000.
Ignored by these egregious delays and charges is the welfare of the consumer. Consumers benefit from the 5G network in the form of superior employment, transportation options, education and medical services and outstanding entertainment and personal communications. Slowing the local area deployment of 5G harms local consumers the most.
Where regulations are antagonistic, those investing in 5G networks are likely to invest more elsewhere, and that would be an economic disadvantage for consumers and employers that the regulators hope to serve. A substantial payoff to Pennsylvania’s consumers will flow from streamlining regulations for the permitting and siting of small cells in local Pennsylvania communities.
The American Consumer Institute estimated the benefits for Pennsylvania from cooperative regulations would be $10.85 billion of 5G investments, an additional $22.8 billion in Pennsylvania gross state product, $6.65 billion in employment earnings, and 17,541 additional jobs per year. Consumers would experience $48.9 billion in benefits in the state from 5G services.
When regulators understand the 5G issues, they usually vote in favor of progress. Already 21 states have streamlined regulations and harmonized the fees and procedures between jurisdictions. There is plenty of room for Pennsylvania to act expeditiously and constructively, and not be left behind.