Washington, District of Columbia on August 21, 2019 | Seattle, Washington on August 28, 2019

As part of a larger effort to incorporate local voices into national policy debates, Next Century Cities convened meetings for broadband advocates, elected officials, industry reps, and policy leaders to discuss access, affordability, and adoption issues related to 5G network deployment. The conversation started in Washington, DC, on August 21, 2019, and explored how access to different types of spectrum could support faster connectivity speeds and network sharing. Advocates questioned whether the US is actually in a “race to 5G” when limited network availability and equipment upgrade requirements could easily stall widespread consumer adoption. Additionally, participants agreed that while 5G connectivity could offer a multitude of enterprise applications, there will likely be a measurable gap between network installation and improving residents’ quality of life. 

The discussion continued in Seattle, Washington on August 28th. Attendees, including digital equity advocates, community outreach specialists, industry representatives, and city officials, talked about the importance of local authority in planning for small cell deployment. City officials shared why it is important for policymakers and lawmakers to consult with local administrators before making decisions that preempt local control. Especially in smaller municipalities, local governments have limited authority and resources to address issues related to safety, aesthetics, and using the public right-of-way. Many will need more resources to process large volumes of small cell applications without shot clock violations. 

Representatives from King County highlighted the importance of broadband adoption studies that identify home versus cell phone connectivity in particular. For the City of Seattle, adoption research was an important tool to identify populations that remain disconnected and ongoing barriers to adoption. Digital equity advocates also shared why connectivity studies help cites invest where the needs are greatest. 

Local governments welcome opportunities for public and private partnerships that advance connectivity solutions. There were several suggestions to help expand access, such as including fiber wireline infrastructure in new multi-dwelling units, and being more proactive about communicating what cities need to expand connectivity. City officials also shared sources of statutory authority and recommendations to fund networks. 

Want more resources? Click here to review Next Century Cities’ Discussion Guidelines on 5G. 

Interested in setting up a similar event in your city, town, or county? Get in touch with us to learn more!