As the scorching heat of a Louisiana summer drives residents indoors, our dependence on internet-connected devices becomes increasingly evident. Yet, for far too many in Louisiana, access to affordable and dependable internet remains a luxury in an era where connectivity has transformed into a necessity.

Even with the federal government investing over a billion dollars to expand internet infrastructure in the Pelican state, there persist rural regions where the economic viability of laying miles of fiber cables underground is questionable. Although Starlink has tackled this issue, a significant number simply cannot bear the cost of purchasing an expensive device along with the ongoing monthly expenses for the service.

A potential solution lies within 5G wireless internet. However, in March 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lost its ability to conduct auctions for spectrum licenses required by companies to offer wireless services. Spectrum might sound technical, but it’s the underlying framework that enables the operation of our wireless devices, spanning from phones to wireless internet connections.

The Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act of 2023 has been introduced in the House of Representatives, with the aim of restoring the FCC’s authority to issue spectrum licenses through competitive bidding. Previous auctions have contributed more than 250 billion dollars from private companies to taxpayers. This legislation would not only facilitate the flow of these funds once more but also holds the potential to expand 5G wireless connectivity, thereby unlocking possibilities for advancements in telemedicine, AI-driven learning tools, smart agriculture technologies, and even autonomous vehicles. However, alongside these promising benefits, there are also accompanying challenges and considerations that demand attention.

While the present rendition of the Spectrum Reauthorization Act displays promise, certain elements of the bill contain potential pitfalls. Specifically, the bill grants the executive branch the power to determine the allocation of federal spectrum for non-federal use. This presents the challenge of taking spectrum away from governmental control and placing it in the hands of innovators.

Nonetheless, the potential gains stemming from enhanced innovation within the wireless industry stand to be substantial for Louisiana. Several industries stand to benefit, including:

Education: Access to innovative educational tools and resources is of paramount importance for Louisiana’s students, particularly those ensnared in struggling school districts. High-speed internet can facilitate interactive learning experiences, remote education, and exposure to cutting-edge AI tutors. This guarantees that all students are provided with increased opportunities to learn and prosper.

Healthcare: Telemedicine has the potential to bridge healthcare gaps in remote and rural regions. Stable internet connectivity would streamline virtual consultations, remote patient monitoring, and the exchange of medical information, thus bolstering healthcare access and outcomes for all residents of Louisiana. For more details, refer to the Pelican Institute report here.

Economic Growth: Enhanced internet access serves as a catalyst for economic expansion, especially in rural locales. Enterprises of all sizes could harness the power of connectivity to tap into new markets, expand their outreach, and generate employment opportunities. In the long run, this would rejuvenate local economies.

The introduction of the Spectrum Reauthorization Act marks a pivotal stride towards safeguarding Louisiana’s digital future and ensuring that all individuals in the state can avail affordable internet access. Nevertheless, enacting legislation without concurrently devising strategies to enhance spectrum accessibility for innovators would be an oversight. By prioritizing the allocation of spectrum bands, fostering collaboration between federal agencies and commercial interests, and instating accountability in decision-making processes, Louisiana can firmly establish itself as a trailblazer in technological innovation and connectivity.