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Former House Speaker’s View: Minnesota needs policy change to ensure 5G future comes to our state

There are going to be almost 300 million mobile Internet users in the U.S. by 2020. We should make sure Minnesota has the wireless infrastructure necessary to enable our employers, farmers, families, and schools to keep pace. Connectivity depends...

There are going to be almost 300 million mobile Internet users in the U.S. by 2020. We should make sure Minnesota has the wireless infrastructure necessary to enable our employers, farmers, families, and schools to keep pace. Connectivity depends on deploying small cell wireless antennas, the goal of Senate File 561/House File 739, now under consideration at the Minnesota Legislature.

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Kurt Zellers

The companion bills would set statewide standards for permitting small cell installations. A policy change is needed because this important and rapidly advancing technology too often is being held back by inappropriate local controls.

Small cells are the antenna infrastructure necessary to support cutting-edge wireless services like the existing 4G (fourth generation) technology and the developing 5G, an exciting advancement that will offer 50 times the speed of 4G.

Many communities still treat small cell installations like the massive cell towers we have today. There's no comparison, as small cells are often about the size of a shoebox and can be mounted on an existing structure like a power pole or a street sign. Supporting advanced wireless technology will require the placement of large numbers of small cell antennas because they don't have the range of big cell towers.

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Forcing providers to go through lengthy, paper-intensive, local approval processes originally drafted to cover the issues related to traditional cell towers slows deployment and denies communities the benefits of state-of-the-art wireless services.

The mobile industry supported 1.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015, along with $400 billion in economic activity. As the number of wireless users and wireless applications grows, those numbers also will grow. A dollar spent on wireless service spurs $2.32 in additional spending throughout the economy, and each wireless job creates another 6.5 jobs outside the wireless industry. Supporting small cell placement in Minnesota will make it possible for our state to share in that growth.

Communities and consumers will benefit significantly from 5G wireless. Innovations made possible by wireless will enable Minnesota cities to provide better services to citizens at reduced costs. It will improve public safety as well, helping control traffic flows and ensuring adequate communications capabilities even in the middle of emergency situations. That's when cell phone usage spikes and conventional networks can have trouble handling call volume.

Consumers will be able to enjoy new applications and services that require the nearly instantaneous interactions that 5G can provide. It will power human-to-human, human-to-machine, and machine-to-machine connectivity, providing a platform for the much-heralded "Internet of Things."

5G will help create "smart everything," bringing Minnesotans advances in health care, education, transportation, manufacturing, farming, and energy.

But all these benefits won't happen if we don't deploy the technology. We can help make sure 5G comes to Minnesota by streamlining and speeding the permitting process for locating small cell antennas. SF 561/HF 739 should receive bipartisan support at the State Capitol, as its approval will put us on the road to a more-connected, more-prosperous future.

 

Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, Minn., is the former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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