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Who's Ready for 5G? Indiana, That's Who

The continuous rollout of ever faster and ever more capable wireless technology has been one of the great technological innovations in recent history.

But, as Say’s Law reminds us, supply creates its own demand, which means that no matter how much capacity we roll out, people will find creative ways to use it up. Indeed, technology has been one of the great proofs of Say’s Law. When your hard drive was 250 MB, you filled it up. You upgraded to 500 MB, and you filled it up. Today, hard drives are 2,000x times that large, and how’s that working out for you?

It’s been the same with broadband. Remember when the iPhone first came out, and wireless networks lacked the capacity to handle all the new traffic?

There’s no reason to think this trend won’t continue. As more and more of our lives rely on mobile, wireless communication, the available spectrum fills up, which is why we need new ways of handling all this traffic.

That’s what 5G technology is all about. 5G wireless technologies will be 10x faster than the current 4G LTE standard, but 5G requires more than just a software upgrade—it requires a new infrastructure design. Instead of relying on those tall wireless towers spaced every few miles, 5G requires a greater number of smaller, less obtrusive radio antennas the size of a toaster.

But more antennas, no matter how small, mean more obstacles at the local government level. That’s because local governments can take months or even years to approve the siting of a single wireless tower, much less hundreds of them. Local governments are notorious for holding up approvals for wireless towers, which slows the rollout of wireless capacity that consumers demand.

That’s not to say that local governments shouldn’t have some say in such matters, but it does mean that states need to put in place more standardized and streamlined procedures to ensure that local governments don’t become the primary obstacle to 5G rollout. And, because states create their municipalities, it is entirely appropriate for states to set the rules for how their municipalities conduct their business.

This spring the state of Indiana has shown the nation how this should be done. Indiana Senate Bill 213, authored by state Senator Brandt Hershman, streamlined local approval processes and updated definitions so that 5G technologies can be deployed without unnecessary obstacles and delays at the local level. Hershman successfully balanced local considerations with the state’s compelling interest in the deployment of 5G in order to keep Indiana at the forefront of telecom investment. And as a result, AT&T announced that Indianapolis will be one of two initial test markets for its 5G deployment. This means Indiana will be at the front of the line for new investment, and faster wireless services for Hoosiers.

Indiana’s 5G bill is a model for other states to emulate. And, because investment capital is a precious and limited resource, other states better get at it!