Opinion: Small cell technology offers huge benefits

David Lewis
Lewis writes: "“Small cells” are exactly what they sound like: small cellular antennas that enhance a wireless network by increasing capacity."

We just finished another election season and, as is often the case, there was a lot of discussion about strategies to grow our state’s economy.

Tax policy, budget priorities, auto insurance and infrastructure all were topics in a conversation about the best way to keep Michigan moving forward. When lawmakers return to Lansing after the Thanksgiving recess, they have the perfect opportunity to add an important item to this conversation — one that will position Michigan well for the future.

As technology has advanced over the years, Michigan has always stayed at the forefront by updating and streamlining state laws to bring new services to consumers. We did it years ago for traditional phone service, and we also did it for cable TV.

Now, the laws from our flip-phone past need to catch up to the innovative wireless technologies being unveiled each day. We need “small cell” legislation to ensure state-of-the-art wireless infrastructure can be installed in Michigan.

“Small cells” are exactly what they sound like; they are small cellular antennas that enhance a wireless network by increasing capacity in a specific area, as compared to a larger area served by a traditional cell tower. Small cells are designed to be compact and flexible so they can be tailored to the structures they are attached to, like light poles and streetlights.

Small cells serve customers in many ways. They will help enable faster wireless Internet speeds, provide more network capacity for things like streaming music or videos, improve wireless experience in places where large cell towers are not the best solution, and — most important to Michigan — help lay the groundwork for future technologies such as 5G and connected cars. 

In recent years, Governor Snyder, auto industry leaders and lawmakers have worked hard to establish Michigan as a hub for connected vehicles, making significant investments to advance connected and autonomous vehicle research. As connected car technology becomes part of our driving experiences, wireless networks must keep pace. Small cells and a 5G infrastructure will be important for these advances in automotive technology and for keeping Michigan out in front of these developments.

After many weeks of negotiation, compromise and improvement, Senate Bill 637 passed the Michigan Senate in March with a vote of 33-3. A state House committee took hours of testimony this summer and early fall and passed the bill 15-4. Now, with lawmakers returning from the Thanksgiving break, the full House is poised to send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder.

And it should.

Too often, lame-duck sessions in the Legislature are marked by controversy and conflict. None of that will come with the House’s work to pass Senate Bill 637. This legislation is an example of how the system should work. Lawmakers, industry interests and local governments working together to reach compromise. Broad bipartisan support. Hours of input and testimony. Adoption of a plan that brings investment in Michigan’s broadband infrastructure.

The state House is ready to pass this important legislation, and consumers and communities are ready to benefit.

David Lewis is president of AT&T Michigan.