5G is knocking on Md.’s door — but we’re not answering

Donald C. Fry//April 18, 2019

5G is knocking on Md.’s door — but we’re not answering

By Donald C. Fry

//April 18, 2019


Legislation that would have established statewide standards in Maryland to streamline the permitting and installation of new high-tech equipment so Internet and wireless cell phone providers can offer a faster, more reliable service known as 5G has once again been rejected and the interested parties encouraged to develop a consensus.

Regrettably, the Maryland Association of Counties, Maryland Municipal League and the wireless industry could not forge a compromise on legislation proposed during the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session. State legislative leaders determined that the parties should continue to meet in the hope that they can develop an agreed upon legislative compromise for the 2020 session.

The standoff essentially delays for another year the state of Maryland opening the door to this innovative new technology. Similar legislation didn’t advance last year either.

As a result of yet another delay, the Free State is increasingly being surpassed – and surrounded – by other states quick to adopt uniform processes and standards for the installation of the new infrastructure that is needed to provide 5G service.

Jobs and capital investment are at stake due to the delay.

Wireless companies are projected to invest $275 billion nationally to build their 5G networks, according to a 2017 study by the consulting firm Accenture. The study also projected that the deployment of 5G technology could create up to 3 million new jobs nationwide.

5G networks will attract new investment in wireless infrastructure technology, increased entrepreneurial activity, additional jobs and an improved climate for competitiveness.

The states and cities that are nimble with overcoming disagreements and enacting legislation which allows innovation to get to market are in effect building a strong and competitive business environment. This is a key component for attracting capital investment.

Unfortunately, Maryland has gotten mired in parochial politics.

A central issue in the debate is the permitting and installation of a key piece of equipment that 5G service needs to operate called “small cells.”

These devices are about the size of a pizza box and contain the radio and other high-tech equipment needed to provide 5G service. Small cells can be mounted on structures such as traffic lights and streetlights, rather than on massive cellphone towers.

While small cells won’t replace cellphone towers, they are intended to complement them by providing faster and more reliable wireless service, especially for downloading large volumes of data.

Advantages of 5G

5G is shorthand in the wireless technology world for “fifth generation.” Most wireless service is now provided on 4G, which over time has been improved to deliver data. This has had a dramatic impact on business operations, individual consumers and sales to wireless internet and phone providers.

But in recent years, wireless internet and mobile phone providers have run into a snag. The utilization of wireless devices has skyrocketed, as has the demand to access videos, apps and other data on the devices. Thus the “pipeline” for delivering all of this information periodically gets clogged, especially in dense urban areas.

The game changer is 5G, notes PC Magazine mobile analyst Sasha Segan in a Jan. 29 article. It will offer “greater speed (to move more data), lower latency (to be more responsive) and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices),” Segan notes.

Unfortunately, in Maryland, wireless phone and internet providers have had to negotiate with individual jurisdictions with regard to small cell installation.

In Montgomery County, for example, the county council passed legislation to permit the installation of small cells in commercial areas, but not in residential areas. In Baltimore, instead of legislation, an agreement was entered into to establish a process for small cell installation in commercial and residential areas.

Any business planning to invest heavily in a new product, service or initiative prefers predictability in government regulations.

That is why wireless internet service providers have been seeking statewide legislation that establishes common ground rules that all jurisdictions must follow when considering applications and permit fees to install small cells. Unfortunately, many counties and municipalities have balked, arguing statewide legislation would rob them of “local control.”

Failed legislation

The legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly this year would have established an installation review process, timetables, rates and fees for the permitting of small cells, while ensuring local officials’ authority to review and approve applications.

The rub for Maryland’s 5G future is that such policy has been delayed while 22 states already have enacted legislation establishing standards for small cells.

In fact, Maryland is quickly being surrounded by states that have adopted such legislation, including Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

With the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session completed and 5G legislation on hold once again, the parties responsible for finding a suitable resolution will be on the hot seat.

Will they find common ground to propose legislation in 2020 that will pave the way for the deployment of 5G networks in Maryland and in doing so attract the new investment in wireless infrastructure, increased entrepreneurial activity and additional jobs?

Or will they let Maryland become yet another example of the fast innovators outpacing the glacial regulators?

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record.


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