Communities of color have faced long-standing struggles to secure access to economic opportunity. Minority and low-income groups also represent the largest users of wireless when compared to other constituencies in the United States. It therefore follows that delays in deployment of next-generation 5G wireless would be felt disproportionately by these very same communities. Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed an order to streamline federal processes to make next-generation wireless a reality that will deliver jobs, investment, and overall economic empowerment.
This order was preceded by numerous consultations with communities throughout the country to fine tune these reforms to address real-life needs. As Rainbow PUSH Coalition has previously described, 5G wireless presents significant opportunities at both the community and individual level for people of color. Nearly every aspect of our lives will be improved with wireless-enabled smart solutions, from connecting us to healthcare resources to making transportation work better for us. Good-paying jobs created in the process will also make strides to address minority unemployment, which persists well above the national rate. Minority entrepreneurs will be able to better connect with business resources and reach more client bases through the expanded connectivity that 5G will provide.
Key to this streamlining effort is the modernization of procedures set forth by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These processes were established in 1966 and 1970, respectively. Because our communities seek fair access to next-generation technologies, we cannot settle for 1960s and 1970s regulatory requirements that unnecessarily slow down access. 5G will require deployment of small cell antennas on common structures like lamp posts and utility poles. Small cells are necessary to enhance service previously only handled by large towers. The difference between installing a tower and an antenna are clearly very different, particularly in terms of costs and timelines to build them. The Wireless Infrastructure Order reforms NEPA and NHPA processes to account for core differences between the technologies.
Failure to enact these reforms will mean a failure to hasten next-generation wireless connectivity to the communities who need it most. Applying standards for towers to small cell installations puts major roadblocks on the enhancement of a service that our communities rely upon. As we have stated before, broadband has become a 21st century civil rights issue. Wireless deployment serves as a vehicle for social change and economic opportunity. 5G needs to become a reality in America sooner rather than later. The order takes an important step in the interest of the public good by reducing barriers across communities nationwide. Rainbow PUSH Coalition stands behind this proposal to expand next-generation connectivity, which will ensure that communities of color are assured a seat at the table.
Steven J. Smith, Executive Director, Rainbow PUSH Coalition Public Policy Institute & Media/Telecom Project