Monday, February 18, 2019

5G will widen tech gap between rural and urban U.S., and U.S. and China, says Progressive Farmer editor emeritus

Urban Lehner
Though 5G wireless networks are up to 20 times faster than 4G, the new tech is unlikely to benefit rural America anytime soon, writes Urban Lehner, editor emeritus of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He observes that China has been preparing for 5G for years, which puts the U.S. at a disadvantage. China has 5.3 5G relay stations per 10 miles; the U.S. has 0.4, according to The Washington Post.

"Trailing China matters because 5G will ultimately transform manufacturing and warfare, among many other things," writes Lehner, who was also once the executive editor at The Asian Wall Street Journal. "Trailing the cities matters because 5G could play a critical role in enabling farmers to make the most of precision agriculture. It could also improve rural health care by enabling telemedicine and slow rural depopulation by allowing more country folk to telecommute."

The Trump administration recently unveiled the American Broadband Initiative to try to beef up rural broadband, but Lehner writes that it will be a tall order, and notes that rural broadband coverage is even worse than Federal Communications Commission maps show; those maps are based on data provided by telecom companies that have an incentive to overstate rural coverage to get subsidies. 

Cutting red tape will help some, but in many rural areas, it's just plain population density that makes broadband buildout expensive, not regulations. "That said, the American Broadband Initiative includes some useful measures that will help narrow the urban-rural internet gap," Lehner writes. "Some 25 agencies are participating and the report lays out specific action items for many of them. These range from developing a common cross-agency permit application form (General Services Administration) to evaluating the economic benefits of high-speed internet for precision agriculture (USDA). It's good to see the government acknowledging the gap and proposing to do something about it, even if its proposal doesn't go far enough."

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