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America’s leadership of the industries of the future — from connected health care to autonomous vehicles and more — is at risk. A global race to be the first to deploy 5G — fifth generation wireless networks — is underway, and China, Japan and South Korea, among others, are doing everything they can to win. They understand that leadership in wireless technology unlocks the innovation and investment that drives jobs and growth across the entire economy.
We know this to be true because within the past decade we experienced what wireless leadership makes possible. Thanks to smart government policies, America’s innovative wireless companies invested almost $300 billion to build state-of-the-art networks and win the race to 4G. The availability of abundant mobile broadband released the creative energies of our business community. American companies redefined the concept of a mobile phone, created entirely new industries and changed the way we live, work and play. The app economy alone — an industry made possible by mobile broadband and dominated by American companies — is estimated to be worth $120 billion.
This week, the leaders of America’s wireless companies meet with the Trump administration to chart a course for 5G leadership. It is a critical moment. Experts predict that Asian countries will lead the development of 5G networks. China is especially aggressive, recently announcing a significant increase in its investment in wireless infrastructure, as well as plans to start 5G trials in more than 100 cities this year.
The United States can win the global 5G race, create millions of new, high paying jobs and add billions of dollars to the domestic economy. Better still, and unlike other nations, we can win this race without heavy government involvement or public funding. On the contrary, America’s wireless industry is prepared to lead the way, and three key policies will help make it happen.
First, the federal government must set aside some of the 60 percent of spectrum it controls and auction it for wireless broadband use. This will help meet the exploding demand for mobile services — already estimated to be five times higher by 2021 — and provide the spectrum necessary for 5G networks.
Second, the government needs to modernize the rules that govern installation of wireless infrastructure. Rather than the 200-foot towers of today, tomorrow’s networks will rely on small wireless cells about the size of pizza boxes. Updating the rules associated with installing these devices will accelerate deployment across the country.
Third, we need to update our regulatory rules and tax structure to ensure the incentives are in place to stimulate billions of dollars in new investment.
If we can move quickly on these three policy priorities and begin to take action in earnest this year, the United States can win the 5G race and transform our economy. According to Accenture, the wireless industry is prepared to invest $275 billion of its own money to build next-generation wireless networks over the next 10 years. This will create more than 3 million new jobs and add $500 billion to the economy.
But that’s just scratching the surface. Next-generation networks will be 100 times faster than current speeds and stimulate a new round of entrepreneurialism and innovation across every sector of the economy. Imagine specialists in New York providing remote health care to patients in rural Texas, connected cars dramatically reducing traffic accidents and optimizing your morning commute, emergency personnel responding to crime or natural disasters as they happen.
If we come together to put in place common-sense policies the United States will win the race to 5G, create millions more jobs at home and generate trillions of dollars in economic benefits to America’s families and businesses.
Meredith Attwell Baker is the president and chief executive officer of CTIA, an association of wireless carriers and technology firms, and served as an FCC commissioner from 2009 until 2011.
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