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  1. Opinion

Column: Florida is on the leading edge of 5G

A sign advertises 5G devices at the Intel booth during CES International, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Published May 16, 2018

The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the NHL Eastern Conference finals, but there's another fierce battle for a coveted title being waged in the area. And the stakes are much higher than the Stanley Cup.

It's all about wireless service. Local Internet providers are deploying wireless infrastructure that will eventually enable 5G mobile connectivity — the next generation of mobile innovation, promising speeds up to 100 times faster and significantly shorter lag times than we typically get.

There's a global race to become the first country to deploy 5G networks, with China, South Korea and Japan offering strong competition. But we want the United States to lead in 5G.

Why? Throughout the history of communications, we've seen that the country that sets the pace in rolling out each new generation of wireless technology gains an economic edge. The United States was the first to build out 4G LTE networks broadly, and a recent analysis estimated that our leadership boosted our GDP by $100 billion and increased wireless-related jobs in the United States by 84 percent.

The potential impact of 5G is even greater. This high-speed, high-capacity wireless connectivity will unleash new innovations to grow our economy and improve our quality of life. Imagine a world where everything that can be connected will be connected — where driverless cars talk to smart transportation networks and where wireless sensors can monitor your health and transmit data to your doctor. That's a snapshot of what the 5G world will look like.

As chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, I've logged more than 5,000 miles driving across the country to see first-hand how digital technologies are unleashing opportunity in U.S. communities and to understand the connectivity challenges many Americans face. This month, my travels brought me to Tampa and St. Petersburg, where I got a first-hand look at 5G-ready infrastructure. I saw Charter's test of 5G spectrum, including 90 Mbps speeds and seamless video streaming in a vehicle that moved from one small cell to another. I also saw AT&T's small-cell deployment, which was helping ease network congestion and setting the stage for 5G. Finally, I joined U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and local business leaders to discuss ways to promote digital opportunity in the bay area, including the possibilities of 5G.

One takeaway for me is that Florida is on the leading edge of 5G. Another is that there's much the FCC can and should do to help American consumers seize the opportunities of 5G.

First, we need to remove regulatory barriers that can slow network buildout. One important thing to understand about 5G networks is that they will require much different infrastructure than today's networks. Instead of massive cell towers alone, companies will need to install hundreds of thousands of small cells, densely packed together, relatively less conspicuous and operating at lower power.

That's why the FCC recently updated its rules to make clear that this smaller infrastructure shouldn't trigger federal historic preservation and environmental reviews designed for 200-foot-tall towers. And that's why Florida made it easier last year to place small wireless facilities in rights-of-way.

Second, we need to make available more spectrum — the invisible airwaves that beam data from cell towers and small cells to your mobile device. Last month, the FCC voted to seek public input on procedures for a spectrum auction scheduled to start Nov. 14, with another one to follow immediately thereafter. These auctions will take previously underused high-band frequencies and repurpose them for the 5G communications of tomorrow.

Third, we need to make sure our 5G networks are secure. Unfortunately, companies can use hidden "backdoors" in their network equipment to allow hostile foreign governments to spy on Americans, inject viruses, steal data and more. To that end, the FCC recently advanced a proposal that would prohibit anyone who receives FCC subsidies to build or maintain telecommunications networks from spending that money on equipment from companies that raise national security concerns.

There's much to be done; these aren't easy lifts. But just as many are looking forward to the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, I'm looking forward to working with state and local leaders in Florida and across the country to promote America's continued wireless leadership and win the 5G future for American consumers.

Ajit Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

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