New 5G technology a challenge for rural America

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Swift County is one of the rare very rural counties in America that has high-speed broadband internet service to all rural residents and businesses.

It sets us apart from many other rural areas and appeared to close the opportunity gap with residents and businesses served by high speed internet in large metropolitan areas.

In 2016, the county sold $7.805 million in general obligation bonds to finance broadband service expansion in eastern Swift County.

With the bond funds, as well as a $4.95 million state broadband grant, Federated Telephone Cooperative of Chokio expanded high-speed internet service to an estimated 600 households, 425 businesses and 75 community institutions.  The project affects 13 of the county’s 21 townships concentrated in areas just east of the Benson city limits.

Western Swift County was already served by Federated’s broadband service.

Federated is paying off the bonds, but with the county using its bonding ability to pay for the project upfront, the company gets a lower interest rate and longer term loan. Bonds payments start in 2017 and run through 2037.

Now, another change could be coming that sets back that progress. At the same time, local units of government may have had taken authority of how they govern utility services.

The Federal Communications Commission approved a new rule Sept. 26 that limits fees local governments can charge wireless providers as they install next-generation 5G networks.

Verizon and AT&T are already competing in major U.S. cities with their new 5G service with the competition to get more intense in the years to come.

Essential to the expansion of 5G is the installation of refrigerator-size equipment throughout communities. Unlike 4G transmitted for miles over large cell towers, 5G waves can only be sent over short distances, thus the need for equipment distributed over relatively short distances.

The installation of all this new equipment will cost billions with part of the cost fees paid to local governments as it is installed next to city utility infrastructure. However, the FCC’s Sept. 26 action caps municipality fees and states they only have 60 to 90 days to review installation requests.

With its ruling the FCC is saying, “We know you think you have jurisdiction locally on your zoning, but not when it comes to these towers,” Swift County Board of Commissioners Chair Erick Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, said at the board’s Oct. 2 meeting. “They (the equipment) is too important, which means Verizon Wireless and Sprint have convinced the FCC that their businesses are more important than our zoning rules.”

“Again, a federal regulatory agency is taking local governance away from local government entities,” he said. “There is not a whole lot we can do about it other than complain loudly in a public forum like this one.”

All three Republican-appointed commissioners supported the rule, with lone Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting. There is a Democrat seat on the FCC board vacant awaiting appointment by Congress.

“This is extraordinary federal overreach,” FCC Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this and I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future.”

Republicans on the commission disagreed. “Cutting these costs changes the prospect for communities that will otherwise get left behind,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr, adding that eliminating the fees will speed up deployment and help “close the gap” with China, which is also racing to deploy 5G....


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