Opinion

Connecting Remote Offices and Classrooms Across America

By Gary Shapiro
September 24, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

With the new school year already started amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, American families and teachers face a familiar challenge – trying to teach our kids efficiently outside the classroom. The good news is technology is making at-home learning easier for both parents and educators.

According to recent research from the Consumer Technology Association, three-quarters of parents (75 percent) and educators (73 percent) say technology products and services have eased at-home learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. And the demand for consumer technology products and services has also grown due to remote learning. 

This shift to at-home learning and working has put new demands on our broadband networks. Broadband internet providers appear to be keeping pace. But, as the pandemic continues, we must ensure the U.S. is positioned to connect all Americans – including those in rural and underserved communities. 

Policymakers at the Federal Communications Commission recognize this unique challenge and are leading the way to keep America connected. In March, the FCC proposed to allow for improved broadband coverage in rural and underserved areas by allowing more access to “TV White Spaces” for unlicensed wireless services. And in July, the FCC authorized Amazon.com Inc.’s Project Kuiper to offer broadband service in unserved areas using low-earth orbit satellites.

More, the FCC adopted a series of decisions spearheaded by Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Brendan Carr aimed at encouraging the rollout of the infrastructure needed for 5G and next-generation broadband networks. 

5G relies on small-cell infrastructure – backpack-sized equipment that can be attached to streetlamps, traffic lights and public buildings. Many states and localities are taking actions to slow 5G rollout with excessive fees and other requirements. This creates a patchwork effect, where some states and localities are prepared to adopt 5G while others lag behind, causing some Americans to have less access to the innovations 5G provides.

The FCC’s 2018 decision expediting state and local siting rules removed unnecessary barriers to deployment – a critical step toward 5G deployment nationwide. But several big cities – including Portland, San Jose and Los Angeles – challenged the FCC’s decision in court, arguing the agency overstepped into state and local decisions about zoning and aesthetics.

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit largely upheld the FCC’s decision. In doing so, the court left in place rules limiting the fees states and cities can charge carriers for small cell deployments, as well as the processing deadlines the FCC imposed to ensure states and cities quickly act on siting requests. 

This is the right decision. 

Many cities and states are getting it right. Indianapolis, for example, was one of the first cities to have 5G service from two major carriers: AT&T and Verizon. And, as CTA included for the first time in its 2020 domestic Innovation Scorecard data – a ranking of the states based on innovation-friendly policies – more than 25 states have laws to streamline broadband infrastructure siting. Sadly, while many state and local governments are embracing 5G – others are resisting it.

As the United States and other Western nations look to beat China in the race to 5G, we can’t afford to drag our feet. China has more than 36 million 5G subscribers, and is expected to ship more than 180 million 5G phones by the end of this year. Policymakers should welcome broadband buildout – not choke it with rules that make it more costly or time-consuming. If we put the right policies in place, the U.S. stands to gain more than 22 million jobs by 2035 and 3.6 trillion dollars in economic output.

The FCC took the right steps to cut disparate state and local rules and encourage innovation-friendly policies. State and local governments, as well as Congress, should follow their lead and enact policies to simplify broadband infrastructure siting rules. By doing so, this will ensure the United States leads the world in connectivity to benefit all citizens – from the tech innovator to the first grader doing in-home learning for the first time.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own.

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