GUEST VIEWPOINT: The Hudson Valley Needs 5G Digital Infrastructure to Support its Future Success

GUEST VIEWPOINT: The Hudson Valley Needs 5G Digital Infrastructure to Support its Future Success
Mike Oates
CEO, Hudson Valley Economic Development

With the coronavirus pandemic shining a bright light on the importance of online access, one fact has been made clear: the digital divide is painfully real. Online access is essential. It is the key to success in our increasingly virtual world. But it is out of reach for more than 160 million Americans—including many here in our own community—who lack access to high-speed internet access, curtailing their ability to participate in remote learning and telehealth, or to work and socialize from the safety of their homes.

New York policymakers must recognize this new reality and work to deliver affordable, accessible, high-speed connectivity across the state, especially among the Hudson Valley’s minority, low-income and rural regions to ensure we are connected, competitive, and, most of all, secure.

That means embracing a streamlined small cell permitting process, as twice proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which will speed the infrastructure improvements necessary to facilitate 5G and do away with often onerous patchwork regulations and permit costs that vary from one community to the next. The past eight months have brought to light the depth of the local digital divide. But, this problem is not new. The consequences are significant for all of us but have had a particularly significant impact on students and teachers across the Hudson Valley.

In Sullivan County’s Tri-Valley Central School District, nearly 20% of students have no access to broadband at home, making it difficult for them to connect with their teachers and classmates online. Across the Hudson River in Columbia County, more than 70% of Hillsdale residents lack sufficient broadband service to excel in the digital age. And just to the north of the Valley, in Albany County, roughly 30% of the student population lack the internet access needed to support online learning.

To ensure we can remain competitive and connected in the coming years, lawmakers must not only strive to close today’s digital divide, incentivizing and encouraging investment where necessary, but also work to prevent the next iteration of this gap when we move to the implementation of 5G––the next generation of wireless technology.

When fully implemented, 5G will deliver service that is up to 100 times faster and connect 100 times the number of devices compared to the current 4G standard. Not only will 5G increase the speed at which we access online resources like websites, video streaming, and other services, but it will impact almost every aspect of modern life.

5G-driven remote learning models will revolutionize education by making cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) possible in the classroom. 5G-driven telehealth networks will make it easier for patients to connect with medical specialists across town or around the world. 5G will also improve public safety, as faster systems will deliver better digital access to emergency services, such as enhanced location data, for first responders.

Another important benefit of 5G is its ability to generate millions of new jobs and unlock the digital potential for small businesses in the Valley’s rural regions, especially as we work to recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The National Spectrum Consortium and the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) reports that the current 5G build-out has created 106,000 jobs as of May 2020.

To date, the wireless industry contributes 4.7 million jobs across the nation, as well as $475 billion in GDP, and $1 trillion in economic output. With the emergence of 5G and increased adoption of online tools and digital services, the wireless industry can play a vital role in helping the Hudson Valley, as well as the country as a whole, continue advancing both economically and technologically.

Investments in our digital infrastructure today will determine the fate of the Hudson Valley tomorrow. To right past wrongs, keep New Yorkers connected, and put our local economy—as well as the entire state—on the path to success, New York must overcome the digital divide once and for all.

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