Pennsylvania should pass legislation to lead in 5G wireless technology

Pennsylvania has a long history of innovation — from Benjamin Franklin’s scientific inventions to the cutting-edge research and development projects taking place today at the state’s many research institutions. Pennsylvania is now poised to lead the nation in the upcoming wave of innovation: next-generation wireless networks, known as 5G.

5G will bring faster and more robust connectivity to people, places, and devices. The Pennsylvania legislature can help expedite 5G deployment by passing House Bill 1400. This bill streamlines the process for installing wireless infrastructure by removing regulatory barriers for 5G wireless deployment in public rights of way, such as along roadways, which will spur jobs, economic growth, and new investment across the Keystone State. Pennsylvanians already benefit from wireless connectivity in how they live, work, and play. In fact, a 2019 report indicates over 41 percent of Pennsylvania households have “cut the cord” and rely entirely on wireless services. And this is just the beginning.

As Pennsylvanians increasingly rely on advanced wireless services, the wireless industry continues to invest in deploying more wireless infrastructure. Our investments will only grow with the deployment of new 5G infrastructure, including small cells. Small cells are wireless antennas typically attached to existing infrastructure, such as utility poles, streetlights, traffic lights, and sides of buildings. 5G will enable new and innovative applications, such as telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, and increased educational and training opportunities.

H.B. 1400 would open Pennsylvania to an infusion of private capital investment. Recent studies estimate that, with the right regulatory environment, the wireless industry will invest billions of dollars throughout Pennsylvania, including $2.4 billion in Philadelphia, $460 million in Pittsburgh, and over $100 million in cities such as Allentown, Reading, Scranton, and Lancaster. Equally noteworthy, this large amount of private capital would also bring thousands of jobs. These economic benefits are too big to miss.

5G will also serve as the foundation for smart cities. Smart cities will use these advanced wireless networks to improve municipal services — from snow removal to trash collection to advanced public safety applications. 5G applications will make communities from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia smarter, safer, and more responsive to the needs of residents and commerce.

H.B. 1400 will modernize the current laws to expedite deployment of small cells throughout the commonwealth — a change needed before Pennsylvania can fully reap the benefits of 5G. H.B. 1400 balances the need for this technology with the interests of the community. Deployment of 5G in Pennsylvania can reshape education, strengthen public safety, and streamline transportation industries, bringing jobs and economic growth to the state. By leveraging existing infrastructure when possible, uniform permitting instructions, a clear and predictable process, and fixed cost-based fees will foster an environment that will propel Pennsylvania faster to 5G readiness.

To date, 28 states have passed legislation to streamline regulations to deploy 5G infrastructure. I encourage Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the General Assembly to make Pennsylvania next to ensure the Keystone State remains economically competitive for years to come with states that have already enacted similar reform to invite investment in advanced wireless infrastructure.

Jonathan Adelstein is the president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, representing the companies that own, build, and service networks that enable wireless broadband. He is a former commissioner of the FCC and administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 31, 2019.