(TNS) -- Those self-driving cars and trucks that appear to loom in our near future? The "Internet of Things" in our homes that will let us talk to our toasters? Lightning-fast internet connections that will let us download a full-length movie in seconds and will help companies large and small transfer mountains of data in the blink of an eye? Much of it depends on the service that wireless companies call 5G. And it's coming sooner than we thought — likely this year, in some parts of North Carolina.
The 5G service (which stands for Fifth Generation wireless) will be blazing fast.
The problem with 5G is that it will require a lot of transmitters. Instead of big cellular towers that now transmit and receive wireless signals at 4G speeds, 5G service will need millions of smaller transmitters along public rights of way — almost as common as telephone poles.
The system would free home and business internet users from needing expensive fiber-optic connections. Instead, they could pick up a 5G signal with an outside antenna connected to a modem. It's fair to say 5G will bring revolutionary change to the world of internet use.
This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for legislative vision in Raleigh. The House Energy and Public Utilities Committee has scheduled a hearing today on House Bill 310, blandly titled Wireless Communications Infrastructure Siting. We hope the details don't lull anyone into nap time. The bill is really important. It's all about giving wireless companies the right to put those small transmitters along public rights-of-way. It also takes some regulatory authority away from the cities and counties and gives it to the state. It could make internet service another public utility — which is what it should have become long ago.
State lawmakers have long shied away from treating internet access as if it was simply another essential utility. That attitude has prevented the growth of broadband networks in rural areas, where long distances between houses and businesses provide little return on costs. It's one reason why North Carolina's rural economy is still in a recession. The arrival of 5G technology could eventually change that. But it will require some strong guidance by lawmakers if it's going to happen.
House Bill 310 could be that first step toward making truly high-speed internet access available across the state. It requires a new way of thinking in Raleigh, adding broadband service to the state's list of essential public utilities, backed by policies that help speed its rollout across the state, not just in high-tech hubs like the Triangle and Charlotte.
We hope the members of the General Assembly will see the opportunity and seize it. The new 5G technology isn't about faster cellphone service. It's about the possibility of dramatic expansion of blazing-fast internet access for everyone. If we're going to be competitive in attracting 21st century jobs, we've got to have the 21st century technology in place to make those jobs possible.
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.