By Ann Brooks,
Special to the AFRO

In her recent State of County Budget Address, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks speaks to Prince George’s County’s “future proof budget.” In fiscal year 2024, nearly 82 percent of the county’s $5.4 billion budget will go to education, public safety and policing.

While these investments will undoubtedly make our community stronger, there is a less obvious way that we can improve both education and public safety—and help safeguard Prince George’s County’s future: upgrading communications infrastructure that we all rely on for broadband. 

Online learning continues to persist even after the height of the pandemic. Furthermore, 45 percent of teens who live in households earning less than $30,000 a year say they sometimes rely on their cellphone to finish their homework or research projects. The next generation of wireless connectivity, called “5G,” promises speeds up to 100 times faster than the 4G standard, and will have the ability to connect up to 100 times the number of devices. As a result, 5G will give those who rely on a smartphone to get online even better access, offering one pathway to addressing digital inequities for our students.

Fast, reliable high-speed internet is also crucial for first responders and public safety professionals who keep our communities safe. An estimated 10,000 lives could be saved every year if emergency response times are reduced by just one minute. Whether it’s a rapidly evolving emergency, an Amber Alert, or a search and rescue operation, greater speed, capacity and real-time data will enhance public safety operations, enabling first responders to have better situational awareness to react quickly and accurately.

To realize the full potential of 5G on both education and public safety, we first need the right infrastructure. To support growing demand, it’s estimated we’ll need 800,000 small cells nationwide by 2026—each supported by fiber. Small cells are small low-powered antennas that enhance wireless connectivity by expanding coverage and capacity. A robust network of small cells and fiber is critical to improving the mobile networks we rely on to not only make emergency calls, get access for our students and address the digital divide—but also to connect with doctors, run our businesses, find information about jobs, access vital public resources and prepare Prince George’s County for future progress and growth.

Building out wireless broadband networks requires close public-private collaboration, including a streamlined permitting process for small cells and fiber. Over the past several years, Alsobrooks’ administration has championed small cell legislation and a franchise agreement, paving the way for companies seeking to build mobile networks in the county. In 2020, the Department of Public Works and Transportation and the Office of Information Technology established technical and aesthetic standards that maintain the county’s character and ensure compliance with federal guidelines.

As network operators look to build out the communications infrastructure the county needs, it will be important for local leaders to lean on the county’s expertise and the processes they have established to realize the benefits of next-generation connectivity.

In her address, Alsobrooks speaks to Prince George’s County’s “prosperity, promise and opportunity,” all of which hinge on the implementation of infrastructure solutions that address today’s demand and future need. Next-generation connectivity means wireless broadband access that will allow Prince George’s County to not only support students and foster safer communities today, but also to embrace new innovations, technologies and growth—preparing us all for a more prosperous future.

Ann Brooks

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