Recent Op-Eds

South Dakota Leading the Way

By Sen. John Thune

December 6, 2019

I served four years as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over everything from planes, trains, and automobiles to the depths of the ocean and the heights of outer space. And no matter the subject, one of my favorite parts about serving in that role was giving South Dakota a seat at the table by elevating the issues that are important to the state and by providing South Dakotans with the opportunity and platform to share their expertise and experience on a wide range of issues.  


While I no longer serve as chairman of the full committee, I’m still a member, and I’m closing out my first year as chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. It’s been a fun and rewarding experience, particularly because I’m still able to give South Dakota a seat at the table.


The subcommittee’s membership mirrors the full committee’s membership, so we have a variety of voices, experience, and priorities on which we can lean. I also love the subject matter. I’m able to continue working on several initiatives that began years ago, particularly my effort to ensure the United States wins the race to 5G mobile broadband technology.


Winning the race to 5G isn’t just about the jobs and opportunities it would create or the enhanced speed with which we’d be able to consume or share information. As important as those things are – and they are very important – this is also about better positioning the United States from a national security and economic security perspective.


For these reasons, it’s more imperative than ever that we beat our global competitors in this space, particularly China, which often plays by a different set of rules. I’ve been committed to doing everything I can to ensure the tools are available for the United States to be the first to carry this across the finish line, but we can’t take our foot off the gas.       


Over the years, I’ve led full committee hearings on this topic. I’ve led subcommittee hearings on this topic. I’ve brought the committee to South Dakota to examine this topic. I’ve written bills on this topic. I’ve even had one signed into law. And since the federal government isn’t going to win this race alone, I’ve also found partners at the state and local level who have been instrumental in helping South Dakota lead the way on 5G.  

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken has been one of those partners, and it was a “things-have-come-full-circle” experience to join him and others in November as the first 5G cells in South Dakota went live. After years of putting in the work, Sioux Falls is now one of the most rural communities in the entire United States to be 5G-enabled.  


Because of his leadership on this issue, I recently invited Mayor TenHaken to Washington, D.C., to share his unique perspective on how important this issue is at the local level. Specifically, the mayor weighed in on the implementation of my Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act – or MOBILE NOW, for short – which was signed into law last year. This new law helped lay some of the important groundwork that has made it possible to more easily deploy mobile broadband networks in the country.


5G is expected to contribute $275 billion in new investment and $500 billion in economic growth, and, as I mentioned, it will help strengthen our national security, too. We’re at the point in the race where the finish line is in sight, and there’s no turning back. With the right investment, a committed team, and a clear vision, the United States can win, and when we do, South Dakota will have been a part of its success.