Winning the Race to 5G
Ever since Ted Turner established Turner Broadcasting in 1965, Georgia has been a leader in telecommunications. Born in Arizona, I grew up a fan of Chipper Jones, Andres Galarraga and Greg Maddux because the Atlanta Braves were one of the only teams I could watch on a regular basis. And while the Diamondbacks came to town in 1998, you never forget your first love.
But times have changed. Due to the rapid advancement of broadband technology, kids can stream not only their favorite MLB team’s games, but also matches of every major sport across the globe. Whether that is a rugby match in Wales, a sumo match in Japan, or a professional wrestling event from right here in Savannah, Georgia, the way we consume live content is no longer bound by traditional notions of telecommunications. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Next generation 5G wireless technology promises to increase speeds 100-fold and drastically reduce latency, opening up vast new opportunities for innovative services to develop. For example, drivers will be able to operate vehicles remotely, no longer worried about slight delays that would otherwise lead to disaster. Autonomous vehicles will be able to react in real-time. And when the Braves fly to my hometown of Phoenix, the technology will allow you to tune in to a virtual reality stream and make it feel like you’re out in the desert yourself.
While this technology has advanced rapidly, deployment processes have not. To achieve this 5G future, wireless carriers will need to deploy a vast network of small cell facilities. Unlike traditional macro-cell towers, these small cells are no larger than a backpack, and some estimates expect a total of 800,000 total deployments by 2026. Unfortunately, many local regulators still treat these deployments like they are macro cells, injecting significant costs and delays into the deployment process.
With this in mind, the R Street Institute released the 2018 Broadband Scorecard Report to examine each state’s broadband deployment laws. The scorecard looks at 44 distinct criteria that apply broadly to both wireline and wireless infrastructure, and small cell deployments are weighted heavily in the evaluation.
The bad news: Georgia didn’t do exceptionally well. With a grade of a C+, the state’s broadband deployment laws ranked 26th in the nation, most notably missing out on points because of lengthy shot clocks (the amount of time a locality has to process wireless permitting applications) and high fee caps (the amount a locality can charge for an application review) for collocations and installation of new poles, as well as significant fees for allowing companies to access public rights-of-way. Out of a total of 44 possible points on the scorecard, Georgia only received 14.
The good news: Georgia is moving forward. On Monday, the Legislature held hearings to discuss the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” sponsored by Senator Steve Gooch and Representative Brett Harrell, which would drastically improve the existing foundation. The bill would reduce the amount that local governments can charge for both right-of-way access and application reviews, establish 30-day shot clocks on application reviews and open up access to poles owned by local electric utilities. These changes will go a long way towards promoting fiber deployment and 5G rollout, and will also help Georgia move up on the 2019 Broadband Scorecard.
At the same time, the bill represents a compromise between local governments and wireless providers. It includes safeguards that differentiate smaller cities from larger ones, and maintains protections for historic districts and residential areas. This balance will ensure that next generation services can be deployed in a timely fashion while limiting the impact that the deployment process will have on Georgians.
5G service will be critical as Georgia continues to grow. And to facilitate next generation deployments, the state’s laws must not hold it back. Georgia led the way in television. It can do the same with wireless.