I used to be a TV news sound technician in a former life. Then, you were attached to your cameraman with a thicket of cables and wires, either recording his footage or sending audio to him onto his camcorder.
Yes, wires were everywhere. And what a pain, that tether. Getting caught, slowing you down, limiting your mobility. I swore, if I never had to deal with wires again, that’d be a great day.
Thankfully, in the early 90s that all changed. The advance of technology made most news crews essentially “wireless,” enabling mobility in both picture and sound, and revolutionizing TV news gathering as a result. Shows like "60 Minutes" and others became even richer with the advent of this mobility, allowing us to capture information once physically impossible to get at via tethered technology.
U.S. communications consumers are now going through a similar exciting transition. They are leaving their wired connections for mobile broadband because, absent the tether, they can obtain all the awesomeness that the Internet has to offer without being tied down to a physical spot.
Over 70% of broadband connections are mobile connections, double that of fixed broadband. Yearly mobile growth is also double that of fixed wire services. Today, there are more than 400 million wireless connections in the U.S. Of these, more than 270 million are smartphones, with 80% of all U.S. adults having one.
As we sit here now, these developments seem logical, almost preordained. Who needs a wire and a desktop PC when most of one’s daily information needs can be served with a smartphone?
Some state and local officials might beg to differ, however.
The next generation of wireless broadband – like 5G – calls for the placement of cell sites far smaller than the 150-foot towers we see throughout America. These so-called “small cells” are about the size of a counter-top microwave oven. To make them work properly, though, providers need six-times more sites (or, about 800,000 in all) placed much closer to businesses and residences than the “traditional” wireless tower model, which erects massive antennas miles away from users.
But there’s a hitch. Private companies putting up small cells and other wireless infrastructure need permission in each locality to access rights-of-way and other public facilities – like streets, buildings and light poles – before construction can occur. Sadly, many officials see this as a gatekeeping, “profit-oriented” opportunity. And this inhibits the roll out of new services.
ISPs constructing infrastructure oftentimes experience slow-rolled review of permits, non-cost-related, $2,000 price tags for each small cell site, and demands for other “favors” or unrelated requirements so they can deliver service in a locality. Spread out over thousands of state and local jurisdictions across America, the time consuming and extortive process is simply not compatible with expeditious and ubiquitous broadband growth. Quite frankly, it will tie down next generation services just like Gulliver was held captive to the Lilliputians.
Later this week, the FCC will vote to alleviate state and local practices that hold up new wireless broadband infrastructure. According to the FCC, the plan will build upon state and local efforts to “promote the timely buildout of this new infrastructure across the country by eliminating regulatory impediments that unnecessarily add delays and costs to bringing advanced wireless services to the public.”
More specifically, the FCC rules will bring siting fees more in line with true costs, provide guidance on “non-fee” requirements for buildouts, and subject permit approvals to defined timeframes. The FCC estimates that its plan would “eliminate around $2 billion in unnecessary costs…[and] would stimulate around $2.5 billion of additional buildouts.” As the FCC sees it, the bulk of this new construction will reside in underserved, digital-divide-challenged rural and suburban areas.
Quite simply, the proposal should go forward. It reflects a commonsense, flexible and national approach to remove state and local barriers which Balkanize the Internet, and keep Americans needlessly wired to the past.
Watch out, officious local regulators – the FCC and the demands of the mobile marketplace are about to unravel your extortive control.
Mike Wendy is president of Media Freedom, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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