U.S. Can Reclaim Global Leadership in Wireless

For decades, the United States has been at the forefront of technological innovation. It may be easy to take for granted, but the American record of accomplishment is unparalleled – from inventing the lightbulb, to walking on the moon, and even being the first to deliver 4G wireless. Throughout the years, Americans have come to expect their country to occupy this role in global leadership.

However, we live in a competitive world in which other nations are always challenging American leadership. In fact, a recent study shows the United States trailing China and South Korea in efforts to launch the next generation of wireless, appropriately known as 5G.

5G will unlock innovations and new possibilities across all sectors, in addition to immense economic benefits. From autonomous vehicles to telemedicine, and connected technologies we have not yet thought of, all of it will rely on some combination of the reliable, ultra-fast, near real-time, high data capacity capabilities that will be possible with 5G. As we learned with 4G, the first country to deploy next-generation connectivity benefits from billions in additional GDP and a pronounced spike in job creation. Innovators and investment alike are bound to flow to the first 5G-connected country.

As the accomplished tech innovator Andy Grove famously said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.” The United States finds itself behind in 5G readiness largely due to the endurance of outdated policies left uncorrected – particularly as they pertain to the deployment of small cells.

Small cells will be critical to the overall infrastructure for 5G connectivity. Once attached to light poles, buildings, and other existing structures, these shoebox-sized devices will help transmit high capacity, high-speed signals to help form a reliable 5G network. You can’t have 5G wireless without small cells, which is why policies that constrain their deployment deserve policymakers’ immediate focus.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Brendan Carr, has been steadily updating these regulatory deficiencies. In March, the FCC voted to streamline the national rules for small cells. The commission also opened a comment period at its July meeting to expand flexible use of mid-band spectrum, which has the unique combination of being the high capacity and wide coverage needed to ensure a reliable 5G network.

The FCC also moved forward on another essential policy at last week’s August meeting called “one-touch, make-ready,” which will tremendously expedite the attaching of small cells and supporting fiber.

Under today’s arcane rules, companies that seek to attach equipment to poles must file stacks of paperwork, await approval and standby while the owners of existing attachments move or adjust their equipment one-by-one, and then attach the new equipment with yet another truck roll added to the process. An entire year or more can pass until all of this has occurred for the attachment of a single small cell. This adds unnecessary expense and delay.

With millions of small cells requiring deployment, change is needed. One-touch, make-ready would help resolve the unnecessarily burdensome process with logical simplification. The policy enables a single contractor to coordinate with the owners of existing equipment to make the pole ready with just one trip – drastically cutting down on time and expenses.

With the FCC’s green light of approval, one-touch, make-ready will help bring near-instantaneous wireless speeds to consumers sooner. The United States has ground to make up in the race for 5G. One-touch, make-ready, in addition to recent FCC actions, will help vault the United States back into its traditional leadership role in global innovation.

Steve Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

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