Tom Struble, technology policy manager at the R Street Institute, said 5G “should be scary” for government internet networks. The next generation of wireless technology, which promises download speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second, is quickly gaining a foothold. Verizon is already implementing 5G in places like Sacramento, while AT&T is installing small cells in Indianapolis to beam the faster signals.

“It’s going to be increasingly prevalent this year and I think in 2020 the balance will tip from 4G to 5G,” Struble said.

The average age to build a fully-functional broadband network is about five years, so cities like Traverse City that are now in the planning stages will already be behind the curve. Struble expects that any area that can now access 4G – which is the vast majority of the United States – will have 5G in five years, whether through small cells installed in cities or low-band spectrum beamed from the air to more rural areas.

The Federal Communications Commission is helping to push 5G growth, working to reduce regulatory barriers and auction off the spectrum needed for the networks of tomorrow.

“I would be extremely hesitant to push public money into one of these [government] projects right now,” he said. “I think it would be particularly foolhardy because of how 5G can disrupt the home internet market.”

“It’s good news for consumers, but it’s not good for the wireline incumbents,” Struble added.

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