Recent Op-Eds

South Dakota Leading the Way on 5G

By Sen. John Thune

November 5, 2019

Closing the digital divide in rural America has long been a priority for me, not only because it’s urgently needed and long overdue, but because I’ve experienced the divide firsthand here in South Dakota. My guess is that you probably have, too. But for some of my Senate colleagues who represent more urban areas of the country, it’s often hard for them to conceptualize the idea that there are still parts of America that lack basic connectivity.

I don’t just mean connecting your phone or computer to the internet, a hurdle in many areas of the country, including South Dakota, to be sure. I’m also talking about the pockets of dead zones that still exist, preventing people from even making a phone call. It’s 2019, and people can communicate with one another as they fly above the Atlantic Ocean. If that can happen at 30,000 feet, the least we can expect is the ability to make a simple phone call here on the ground.

While we all can likely agree that being in a dead zone might seem like a luxury – where phone calls, social media, and emails can’t distract us – it’s easy to see why the advantages of having access to mobile broadband and basic cell service far outweigh the disadvantages.

For example, what if you get a flat tire late at night in the middle of a dark country road? Or worse, maybe you’re involved in an accident and need medical attention. Having one bar of service or fewer just isn’t going to cut it. So, if we looked at this issue purely from a safety perspective, it’s enough of a reason alone to ensure that everyone who wants to be fully connected can achieve that goal and realize its full potential (and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with it).

The same general principle could be applied to business, education, agriculture, telehealth or other parts of our everyday lives. Folks are far more likely to succeed if they have access to mobile broadband technology and the opportunities it can create. And we all know those opportunities can mean the difference between success and failure, high yields and low yields, or e-meeting your doctor in your living room and traveling hours to see her in person. Connectivity, or lack thereof, can be the difference-maker.

When I was chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I committed to having South Dakota help lead the way in the 5G mobile broadband revolution, and I meant what I said. My MOBILE NOW Act, which is now the law of the land, laid important groundwork that has made it easier to deploy 5G in a timely manner in rural America and around the country. I’ve worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission and have even brought several commissioners to South Dakota to showcase our state and everything it has to offer.

I’ve hosted committee hearings in South Dakota and in Washington, and I’ve invited South Dakotans who are on the front line of this effort to testify and share their work with the nation. I’ve reintroduced bipartisan legislation that will help improve 5G infrastructure, and I’ve partnered with the City of Sioux Falls and its forward-looking leaders, like Mayor Paul TenHaken, to make it one of the first, and one of the most rural, 5G-enabled cities in the country.

Given the years of work that have gone into this effort, it was humbling to be in Sioux Falls when Verizon recently flipped the switch on the first 5G cells in the state. Faster speeds and easier access to information is great, but there’s more to offer. 5G also means jobs and economic growth. In the Sioux Falls area alone, 5G is expected to create an additional 1,500 new jobs and give the city’s economy a big shot in the arm.

By the end of the year, nearly a dozen 5G-enabled small cells will be active along Phillips Avenue in Sioux Falls. It’s a major milestone in this technological revolution, but this marks a new beginning in a lot of ways, too. There’s a lot more work ahead of us, but when they write the history book on 5G, Sioux Falls will be among the first few chapters, and that’s something our state can be proud of having accomplished together.