Opinion

Breaking Down Barriers Through 5G Technology

I grew up in Baltimore, where my sisters and I attended parochial school and some of the region’s best public high schools. We were educated by great teachers who had abundant and cutting-edge resources.

Today, students and schools in Baltimore and across the country face many unique challenges — among them safety, inequity, and inadequate resources — particularly when it comes to technology and innovation.

As technology has opened up exciting new pathways for learning, a “homework gap” has emerged in our schools that demands our attention. Research shows that African-American and Hispanic students are the least likely to have access to technology, the most likely to experience difficulty completing their homework and the most likely to indicate that their grades suffered because of lack of access to technology and connectivity.

With 5G, the next generation of networking technology, on the horizon, we are at a decisive moment in which this pernicious digital divide widens dramatically. But with 5G our nation will have the opportunity to close that divide decisively. For the underserved communities in Baltimore and beyond, the stakes could not be higher.

Throughout my career in the public and private sectors, I have committed myself to doing all I can to help break down educational and economic barriers, especially those that hamper the success of students of color. Today, too many urban communities in the United States remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. With truly inclusive 5G networks, that can change.

5G must be affordable to serve all Americans. By joining to form the New T-Mobile, T-Mobile and Sprint will be able to offer customers better service and more data at the same or lower prices. In fact, they have formally committed to do precisely that for three years following the merger, even if competitors raise their own prices. The companies have also pledged to invest nearly $40 billion to develop the new network and related services; combined with inevitable responses from the competition, this could expand wireless capacity by 120 percent and drive the price per gigabyte down as much as 55 percent.

This is a potential game changer for students and educators in underserved communities — both inside and outside of the classroom. Affordable broadband access matters to students now more than ever. As Brookings Institution fellow Dr. Nicol Turner Lee notes in a recent paper, 5G-enabled technologies “can potentially contribute to more vibrant and robust school learning environments” and “make a marked difference in educational outcomes” for students of color on the wrong side of the digital divide.

I am confident that the New T-Mobile will deploy 5G inclusively — not just because they will have a financial incentive to add customers to their new network, with its vastly increased capacity, but also because inclusivity is core to what has made them successful. In fact, all of the New T-Mobile’s customers will benefit from the network improvements, including participants in Sprint’s Lifeline services and those on prepaid plans through the Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, and Metro by T-Mobile brands.

T-Mobile and Sprint are valuable community partners in Baltimore and in cities across the country. The combined company’s ability to support our families and classrooms will only increase after the merger.

We still have a long way to go to ensure equitable access to broadband, but there are reasons for optimism. A stronger New T-Mobile will lead to a more inclusive 5G future, marked by greater educational prospects for disadvantaged youth across the country.

Broderick Johnson served as assistant to the president and cabinet secretary under President Barack Obama, and is currently an adviser to Sprint and senior of counsel with the law firm Covington and Burling.

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