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The Internet of Things Wants to Know Where Its 5G Is

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A major pledge of the Trump Administration was cutting red tape and boosting America's infrastructure.

Ten months in, there are lots of moving parts to the campaign to ease permitting and boost infrastructure projects. And you’ve got to be pretty good at acronyms, as we'll see in a second.

Consider wireless innovation and the Internet of Things.

new report from the American Consumer Institute (released at a Capital Hill forum at which yours truly served as moderator) finds consumer benefits in the hundreds of billions of dollars will flow from tomorrow's 5G broadband wireless services.

Next generation speeds and capacity could finally enable full realization of virtual and augmented reality, snap downloads of movies, vastly more traffic, seamless autonomous vehicle communications and controls on land and air--the entire suite of long-promised Internet-of-Things goodies.

The barrier, though, is that over $250 billion will be needed to upgrade wireless infrastructure over the coming few years, and there's way too much permitting red tape from the 50 states, 3,000 counties and 20,000 incorporated places. And of course Washington. All can threaten rollout.

For example, Common Good Chairman Philip K. Howard's report Two Years, Not Ten Years, found red tape delays for infrastructure "more than double the cost of large projects and harm the environment by prolonging pollution.”

For fifth-generation wireless, removing such burdens matters a lot, because at least five different still-unrealized interlocking technologies (millimeter waves, small cell technologies, massive multiple-input multiple output, beamforming, and full-duplex) are needed to bring about a 5G world, as IEEE points out in a superb little tutorial.

Nobody has 5G service yet, and hero politicians are already throwing ill-advised legislation at the rural digital divide which will distort rollout and access -- while on the flipside some localities are putting up barriers in the form of high access fees for those who want to install 5G equipment along existing rights of way.

For its part, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) November agenda includes new findings and orders intended to facilitate wireless deployment, including:

Some of this is problematic in that we never had humane property rights and fluid ownership models established in utility poles. These were turned over to artificial monopolies and rate regulation generations ago. Therefore even today we maintain an Administrative State that keeps network industries artificially walled off from one another.

While adversarial access can and seemingly will be granted, ultimately the liberation of now-siloed network industries must be addressed on a far deeper level than any agency is now prepared to engage. My prediction is regulators cannot engage in this manner.

Still, under Trump, some things are breaking free. October brought the Commerce Department’s Permit Streamlining Action Plan in response to Trump’s January executive memorandum on "Streamling Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing."

In addition, January had brought Executive Order 13766, "Exepediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals fo High Priority Infrastructure Projects." These E.O.s are a mouthful, but the word "Keystone" will ring a bell on this one.

Next came Trump’s summertime $1 trillion infrastructure push as a component of his budget proposal.

In a June speech at the Department of Transportation, Trump's said the goal is “massive permit reform” to speed up the lengthy construction approval process and bring it from as long as 10 years down to two years. Trump noted Federal “highway permitting processes involving 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes.”

That event was prelude to yet another Executive Order (13807) on "Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects" (here's the "Fact Sheet" on it).

You haven't heard of linkages between broadband Internet and executive order 13807, but they're definitely there.

The 13807 order, like all presidential executive orders, applies only to executive departments and agencies, not independent agencies like the FCC. But the order clearly specifies "broadband internet" among the many types of infrastructure it intends to liberate.

Now, the 114th Congress under Obama had already enacted the “Federal Permitting Improvement Act," which was Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act" (or, Fast-41; there's one of those acronyms).

In fact an irked letter from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) said tools were already in place that Trump needed to exploit ("Specifically, the Senators are urging the Trump administration to fully implement the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC) to help streamline the permitting process and facilitate infrastructure development.")

(FPISC is another infrastructure-related acronym for you.)

In any event, we're witnessing some convergence on a federal framework for infrastructure liberalization, however short of laissez-faire it may be:

  • Requiring that permitting steps occur simultaneously rather than sequentially at agencies;
  • New penalties for federal agencies that miss deadlines;
  • Creation of a FAST-41 online permitting dashboard for managers to track projects;
  • And a one-stop shop FPISC approach.

New legislation to facilitate 5G may gain a foothold, too (such as Sen. John Thune's (R-S.D.) Senate-passed MOBILE NOW Act), but we'll need to make sure such moves foster long term liberalization and "permissionless innovation" rather than inadvertent federal micromanagement, oversight and a Mother-May-I Internet of Things.

In an October hearing on the Trump administration's regulatory Reform Task Forces and his one-in, two-out approach to regulation, witness Jitinder Kohli of Deloitte Consulting (who'd helped implement similar approaches in the U.K.), noted the “Quick Start Guides” we all get whenever we buy a new electronic device like a TV or smartphone.

He made the excellent point that American businesses need a quick start guide when it comes to complying with regulations.

Originally published to Forbes Online.