One Vote That is One Big Step for Innovation

Published March 21, 2018

Tomorrow, the power of one vote could become very apparent. One vote could keep $1.56 billion in the pockets of taxpayers. One vote could unleash $275 billion in much needed infrastructure investment, creating 17,000 jobs. One vote? A new tax bill? An infrastructure plan? This is a vote by the FCC to modernize the federal review process for the country’s next generation of telecommunications – 5G.

The FCC will vote tomorrow on a proposal that would minimize the environmental and historic reviews for “small cell” sites under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This proposed change acknowledges the reality that as opposed to the large antennas often seen dotting the countryside, these cells truly are small, around the size of a pizza box. Thousands and thousands of them will be needed in each city. The different size alone calls for smart thinking of reviews not slavish devotion to a regulatory scheme designed for completely different technology. As the backbone of 5G, slowing down deployment for something as small and ubiquitous as these cells would be wasteful and deny the promise of tomorrow’s network. Faster reviews allows for faster and less costly deployment of the cells.

FCC Commissioner Carr believes that this simple move will reduce deployment time by half and regulatory costs for small cell sites by as much as 80 percent. A report by Accenture released last week confirms that and more. This infrastructure reform could lead to massive investment in 5G and position the US to win the global race to 5G.

The report indicates that:

  • The environmental and historic reviews cost nearly $10,000 per small cell, consuming 29 percent of current small cell deployment costs.
  • The private sector will invest approximately $275 billion to upgrade America’s wireless service to 5G, particularly if the cost and conditions are right.
  • The FCC order would save Americans $1.56 billion in just the next nine years, from 2018-2026.
  • The FCC order’s cost savings alone would result in the creation of more than 17,000 jobs and build in excess of 57,000 small cells.

5g is not just a single system but rather is a system of systems that will work with previous technologies, and that will also require new infrastructure, including the small antennas, as well as new investments in fiber, cell towers and base stations. 5G will be a mash up of existing and new technologies including wi-fi and new bandwidths, including improvements in both wireless and necessarily wired connections to complete the communications loop. This ubiquity of high speeds, a hundred times faster than 4G, will enable more of everything valued in broadband and open the world to promised technological advancements such as surgery, tactile real-time feedback for robotics and self-driving vehicles. With so much to be coordinated, and demand ever increasing, artificial slow-downs due to government reviews that no longer fit the facts should not be tolerated.

The bottom line is that this one vote would lead to massive amounts of capital being freed up to spur investment, the enabling of more innovation, more broadband and leaving more money in the pockets of Americans. But such a move is not easy as large investments in infrastructure are needed and so eliminating unfit regulation is a critical, and smart, move. In this way, the FCC is pursuing infrastructure reform, moving now to spur real infrastructure spending on the infrastructure of today, and tomorrow.