By Bill Cameron Posted at 10:00 AM  | January 17, 2019

MARSHALLS CREEK — AcceleratePA, the same coalition behind the Monroe Gigabit Project that helped bring higher-speed internet to the Poconos in 2017, has set its sights on a new objective: preparing the region for the imminent rollout of fifth-generation cellular data service.

“People are using their devices in a different way now,” said Karmen Rajamani, East Area director of Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of shared communications infrastructure. “When you first started, it was to make phone calls — not a lot of data demand there. But, increasingly, trends are that people are not using them for phone calls.”

“The volume of what you do with your device is data. Increasingly, it’s video streaming — and that data need is enormous.”

Fifth-generation or 5G wireless technology represents the latest standard of high-performance cellular communications systems. Telecommunications providers worldwide, some already in the first stages of deployment, are racing to bring more advanced hardware and accompanying service improvements to a growing market of wireless customers.

On Tuesday, a group of local and regional stakeholders met for an AcceleratePA public launch event in East Stroudsburg University’s Innovation Center at 562 Independence Road. There, Kelly Lewis, a former Monroe County state representative and current president of technology procurement firm Lewis Strategic, introduced Rajamani along with spokeswoman Ashley Henry Shook of the Pennsylvania Partnership for 5G and a panel of other industry leaders.

As Shook explained, some advantages of 5G networks will be noticeable to even the most basic users of wireless services.

“I wanted to give the example of downloading a two-hour movie on your current 4G device,” Shook said. “That same two-hour movie that takes about 90 minutes to download on a 4G device will take four seconds to download on a 5G device on a 5G network.”

AcceleratePA’s new campaign aims to help public and private sector authorities lay the procedural and infrastructural groundwork for the impending 5G rollouts. Much of the conversation Tuesday centered on the use of small cell networks, which are systems of low-powered cellular radios, to supplement weak spots in existing coverage areas serviced by high-powered towers.

“You expect that the phone works from when you leave your house to your garage, you’re driving down the highway, out on the street to get coffee in the morning and into your building,” said Rajamani. “You expect that coverage, and, frankly, with wireless providers, that is their charge: to provide ubiquitous coverage.

“So, we help provide the infrastructure to be able to do that, and as our data demands continue, we will need more pipes — or small cell networks — to meet that demand.”

The process

Part of the preparation for 5G deployment entails updating some of Pennsylvania’s laws governing telecommunications, many of which were drafted when wireless cellular technology was in its infancy or earlier. Local ordinances relating to utility regulations can vary significantly from one municipality to another, further complicating the legal process.

For those concerns, the Pennsylvania Partnership for 5G has advocated for a statewide process for small cell applications, said Shook. The Partnership, which currently has 31 members including Facebook and the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, has urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would establish a single set of rules for all municipalities.

“There are 2,500-plus municipalities across the state of Pennsylvania,” Shook said. “When an entity like Crown Castle is trying to install small cell nodes, they are operating by 2,500 different sets of rules. That’s different applications fees, that’s a different process, that’s a different time frame, and it’s onerous for everyone, including the municipality.”

“If we can institute some predictability and some uniformity into the process by adopting statewide legislation, everybody knows the playbook by which we’re operating.”

Earlier during the event, Smithfield Township Supervisor Robert Lovenheim, speaking from the audience, asked Rajamani what the industry was doing to help educate local governments on rollout proceedings. He also questioned whether the proposed legislation might burden local authorities with an overwhelming volume of paperwork.

“We’re not opposed to this, but what happens is it becomes what we call unfunded legislation,” he said. “In other words, all of a sudden we’re inundated with all of this. We can’t handle it. We have a small staff. We don’t know what to do.

“It’s similar to what we go through with the Sunshine laws, when somebody wants to submit a right to know application. It can be a lawyer with hundreds of pages going back years, and we don’t what to do because we don’t have the facilities to do that. The same is true here.”

“I’m looking for some relief from the industry on this, either a statewide advisory council or anybody who can help us get through what’s going to be a huge deluge of paperwork which we can’t do.”

Rajamani responded, saying that industry leaders are willing to work with local governments. She also contended that the proposed statewide requirements would streamline the approval process in many ways, making it easier to bring needed services to underserved areas.

“How many people want to start a business from their house but say, ‘I’m still on dialup,’ or whatever it is,” she said. “You want to service your community, and we want to help with that. That’s why I think that the small cell state bills are effective — because it puts it out there for everybody. The rules are there for the industry but also for communities.”

“I hear you, because it will happen: somebody is going to come to your community and drop a hundred applications on your desk. But, what I think is the beauty and the guiding help of these state small cell bills and the FCC regulation … is that, again, you can tell the industry, you can tell my guy, ‘Your application, it has to be these certain things, and then I’ll approve it.’ But, if it’s incomplete, the check is wrong — stick it back.”

AcceleratePA’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 27.

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