Our nation faces sharp divides between rural and urban areas. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities. On the one hand, the vast majority of youth, wealth and education is concentrated in these areas; on the other, residents frequently face clogged roads, sky-high rent prices and straining infrastructure.
But if remote work were possible from any place at any time, workers could live anywhere they like and get all the benefits of a strong, reliable internet connection – which could, in turn, even out regional economic and social disparities and lessen the strain on our cities.
Our nation is poised to begin deploying 5G technology, with connectivity 100 times faster and five times more responsive than today’s networks. This extremely high data rate, combined with very low latency, means 5G can help deliver significant innovations across entire industries, including automotive, telecom and health care – and enable emerging sectors such as smart cities. We are also poised to deliver broadband to unserved rural areas using TV spectrum with an approach Microsoft calls Airband. Both developments are needed to keep us competitive and avoid deepening the divide.
This is where the Federal Communications Commission comes in. The agency has been eager to implement 5G connectivity nationwide. In a recent speech, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr highlighted the technology’s potential benefits: 3 million jobs created, $500 billion growth in gross domestic product and $275 in investments from the private sector. He also pointed out how this kind of connectivity helps rural areas such as Beatty, Nev., gain access to key services, sharing the story of a rural clinic that wouldn’t have been able to afford to hire a new doctor, but could connect patients to a video consultation with a physician remotely using the town’s new high-speed connection.
The possibilities of adopting this technology are remarkable – but the risks of not doing so are, if possible, even greater. Other nations – including China and South Korea – are working just as hard to make this kind of broadband connectivity possible. If they get there before we do, we could not only lose out on major economic gains, but lag behind on a whole new wave of innovation.
America beat out other nations in the race to 4G – and 4.7 million U.S. jobs and $475 billion annually came of that victory. With the advent of 4G connectivity, we began to envision fresh ways of using the internet. The internet of things powers our devices, monitors our health and answers our questions. And now with 5G, the possibilities are endless. From self-driving vehicle connections to smart cities, 5G holds the promise of an innovative future.
If we catch the 5G wave, we’ll see these technologies used on a grander scale in cities and discover new ways the internet can help us be safer, healthier and more efficient. If we miss it, we’ll lose our global edge in innovation and watch as other nations develop the services and solutions of the future.
The FCC has already made major strides toward nationwide 5G connectivity. As Carr noted, America not only was the first nation to allocate high-band spectrum for 5G, but also opened more bands than any other nation. And the agency recently eliminated a good deal of red tape so that deployment of small-cell networks – the backpack-sized facilities that will support 5G – can proceed much more quickly. The FCC also paved the way for Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative by opening up unused TV spectrum for broadband and other uses. Earlier this year, Declaration Networks Group Inc. and Microsoft announced a partnership aimed at connecting 65,000 people in rural Virginia and Maryland during the course of three years. By 2022, Microsoft hopes to make this promising technology accessible to 2 million people in rural America, helping to close the gap of the nearly 20 million people in rural areas without broadband access.
There is still work to be done before universal connectivity becomes a reality. “Success,” as Carr said, “is ensuring that all communities benefit from 5G” – rural and urban, young and old, wealthy and poor. For that to happen, the FCC needs to work in tandem with state and local officials to craft a framework in which the small cells can be deployed efficiently.
Federal leaders need the insight of mayors and other local officials to pinpoint how and where deployment will be most effective. But if those local leaders block deployment, we could end up with a patchwork effect that prevents communities from taking advantage of all the opportunities 5G connectivity offers.
It’s a major shift, no question. But we’ve made larger, more complex transitions before and come out all the more connected and creative for it. I’m eager to see how the FCC will continue to lead the way in pushing our nation forward.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of The New York Times best-selling books, “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.” His views are his own.
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