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5G Technology: Smart Decisions for Smart Cities

Personal wireless service (PWS) providers are beginning to call for 5G technology deployments in U.S. communities. Behind the scenes, city leaders must clear significant legal, technical, regulatory and engineering hurdles to allow 5G to be developed cohesively and in a manner that does not steamroller the city’s values and those of its citizens. Here are some questions and considerations cities should work through as they determine their approaches to 5G and other new smart-city technologies. Broadband availability is increasingly important to economic vitality and quality of life. As new generations of wireless and wireline broadband technologies develop, city officials must balance many competing priorities: serving the best interests of their citizens,promoting digital inclusion, appropriately pricing fees for rights-of-way access, protecting existing infrastructure, upholding community values, making appropriate investments for their economic environments, and adopting adequate technology standards that balance futureproofing against the risk of leaving current business and community needs behind. All the while, vendors and researchers press the latest, greatest services, complete with network and infrastructure wish lists, which may or may not be in a city’s best interests. In short, meeting the needs of cities, their residents and service providers can be difficult. Well-defined policies and procedures work in all parties’ best interests and are critical to the balance. With thoughtful planning, cities can minimize the impacts to their staffs and resources while allowing faster deployment of advanced technologies to their citizens. However, even the most forward-thinking communities are likely to be challenged in their ability to navigate legal, technical and financial questions, such as the following: What state and federal laws are in play? What are the legal ramifications of the contemplated courses of action? What negative impacts will there be on the city’s infrastructure and citizens? To what liability will the city be exposed, and how can that liability be minimized? How are other communities handling these questions, and are those models a good fit for my city?

These questions become especially pronounced as 5G wireless technology comes closer to market. 5G is estimated to be available in many markets by 2020, so PWS providers and associated infrastructure providers (collectively, “providers”) are gearing up now. Cities must prepare now for the coming deployments. Doing nothing is not an option. The effective deployment of next-generation wireless networks in any community will depend on the technical and aesthetic guidelines that cities establish and the regulations that emerge from state and federal bodies. Developing guidelines that conform with regulations will, in turn, require technical expertise, legal understanding, sound engineering and regulatory guidance. It’s a lot for communities to tackle, and it can be tempting simply to rely on a provider’s recommendation in the hope that the end result will meet community needs. However, this approach can result in a solution that favors one provider over another and may not meet the needs of the city or its citizens.

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