Over the past few months, our way of doing business has changed. Where we once crammed into a conference room with our co-workers to finalize a presentation, we are now practicing it over Zoom from our dining room tables. Parents, many of whom are working from home, are balancing their children’s schoolwork and other aspects of life remotely. While our local school districts have made huge strides in trying to educate students virtually, their ability to reach all students equitably and effectively has been complicated by the connectivity challenges that exist.
Webinars, webcasts, and even virtual happy hours now populate our business and family calendars. Yet, even as we begin to reconnect with colleagues at the local coffee shop or hold a team meeting at the office, it is undeniable that the virtual workplace is here to stay.
Despite our need to be connected, many consumers lack adequate access to high-speed internet, especially those in more rural parts of Washington County and our state. Others, often those in urban areas, lack available network capacity to support the increased demand for web-based applications. Ironically, urban dwellers and rural residents find themselves in the same situation – both are experiencing connectivity constraints.
For us to maintain the level of productivity that our business and personal lives require, the technology that allows us to stay connected must evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of this new work and home environment. There is no better time than now to support greater investment in rural broadband and faster deployment of small cell antennas, the infrastructure that will support 5G networks. The emergence of 5G – the next generation of wireless technology – will help to increase data capacity, improve network speed and enable the innovation that will drive the global marketplace.
While many of us are just now learning what 5G is, how it will be used and what it will enable, several constants remain – we need reliable connections for our devices, and we need greater network capacity to accommodate increased demand. 5G is expected to do all those things and more.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania does not have the infrastructure in place to allow us to tap into the potential that 5G is expected to provide. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, as many as 800,000 small cell nodes and 20,000 technicians will be needed to install and support a national 5G network. At a time when bringing people back to work has never been more critical, greater investment in our telecommunications infrastructure is essential.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly can take a huge step forward by enacting bills like HB 1400 (Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act) and even Rep. Pam Snyder’s HB 305 (Communications Assets and Wireless Broadband Services Act). These bills encourage shared communications infrastructure and broadband deployment while ensuring that Pennsylvania does not fall behind in the race for 5G.
Thankfully, the Pennsylvania Senate sees the importance of connectivity as well. Companion legislation to HB 1400 is expected to be introduced in the Senate and local legislators like Sen. Camera Bartolotta have already signaled support for the proposal by signing on as a co-sponsor.
Now is the time to support these bills and other policies that encourage broadband and small cell infrastructure deployment and ensure that Pennsylvania remains economically competitive. We all stand to benefit from increased connectivity if these statewide policies are enacted.
Jeff Kotula is president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.