The impact of wireless networks and technology on the way small businesses operate is undeniable. Looking back on the last decade, we were introduced to 4G, and with it we saw smartphones and the app economy take off in big ways. These gadgets, services and more gave small businesses and entrepreneurs’ new tools to start, run and scale businesses — all from the palm of their hands if they wanted to.
As we enter a new decade, we’re looking forward to the next big thing, and that’s 5G. With remarkably faster speeds, near-instant responsiveness and greater capacity, 5G will not only improve current capabilities, but it will also be a launch pad for new businesses and innovative solutions that help America’s main economic engine, small businesses, grow and thrive in the digital economy.
There is a huge competitive advantage to getting 5G first. That’s something that we can’t necessarily look at through the lens of an individual company, city or state. The race to 5G is very much a global one. Under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has done a lot to put the U.S. in a good position, but we can’t declare victory yet.
Other major world powers are aggressively pursuing 5G dominance. The country that wins will attract significant investment and talent that translates into job and GDP growth. We know this from the race to 4G, which America won, and we cannot let that status or advantage slip away. With America’s main competitors leading the way, there are also national security concerns. All told, it’s critical for America to win.
A major obstacle in this race for America is access to the C-Band spectrum. Spectrum, at the most basic level, is the invisible infrastructure that powers wireless networks. The C-Band is of particular interest because this is where the rest of the world is already in the process of deploying 5G. The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) recently identified 23 countries that already “auctioned or allocated C-Band spectrum with the intention of opening up the frequency range for mobile broadband and 5G usage.” While 5G will run on a broader range of spectrum, the C-Band is the “most important band for 5G.”
Before the C-Band can be used for 5G in the United States, it must be transferred from satellite companies that currently control it to wireless providers. Mr. Pai said he intends to do this through a public auction, and time is of the essence.
Taking the steps necessary to ensure an auction occurs in 2020 must become a top priority. Congress is already at work to put wind in the sails of this process with a bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and John Thune of South Dakota. Their legislation would require the FCC to hold the C-Band auction before the end of 2020.
Ultimately, Mr. Pai and his FCC are going to have to do the heavy lifting to ensure this deadline is met. The next step is for them to vote on a plan to move forward. The FCC will not be taking up this issue at its January meeting. So, it’s important that it is on the commission’s agenda for the February meeting.
The new year and the new decade are rife with opportunity for America’s small businesses if we make smart policy decisions that equip them with the 21st-century tools they need to compete and win. Foremost among those tools is 5G wireless, and the FCC chairman and his commissioners must make auctioning C-Band spectrum a top priority.
• Palmer Schoening is the chairman of the Family Business Coalition.
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