Experts at a Brookings Institution panel discussion agreed today that 5G wireless technology has the potential to impact tech policy on Capitol Hill and beyond, including historically disadvantaged communities with people of color and those who live in rural areas where internet access is not as readily available as in more populated areas.

To better reach those communities with cutting-edge communications infrastructure, the panel came to a consensus on being more aggressive about policies to promote more 5G infrastructure and service deployment.

“It won’t happen organically,” warned Donald Cravins, Jr., Senior VP for Policy at the National Urban League.

Panelists said that 5G technology should have the effects of making basic wireless service less expensive and enabling more internet of things (IoT) devices, and therefore enable the more efficient delivery of more essential services to areas and communities on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Essential services that could see wider distribution include telemedicine and medical data computing, although panelists said nobody would mind seeing better entertainment content streaming speeds. The public-interest value of those kinds of improvements is important for not just the digital economy, but also to give people of color a chance to participate in what Cravins called: “the next great American revolution.”

Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute, said he wasn’t so sure about the public sector’s role in pushing for 5G infrastructure and service rollouts, and said the private sector would do a better job at that.

“One question is that if you have a rapidly changing technology—should the leadership come out of the private sector, the public sector, or some combination—it’s hard for the public sector to be a leader on scale,” Mandel said. It would take collaboration at all levels of government, from state and local levels to Federal, to have homogenous implementation.

“Nationwide deployment of 5G is critical. This is going to require a lot of work, a lot of infrastructure investments, [and] a lot of thinking about what applications will go over those networks,” Brookings Institute Fellow Dr. Nicol Turner Lee said.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.