Rep. Trone: 5G Is Key to Job Creation and Bridging the Digital Divide in Maryland

5G photo.

By David J. Trone

The writer, a Democrat, is a member of the U.S. House representing Maryland’s 6th District.

It was bad enough that Robert Jackson lost his job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But without a reliable internet connection at home, the Maryland father struggled to look for work while caring for his son, Raquan.

“The only way I could apply to jobs and get Raquan online for school was to use the hotspot on my phone,” he told interviewers last fall. “Or, I would have to drive Raquan somewhere else with Wi-Fi, like the school parking lot, and we would work out of the car.”

Mr. Jackson is just one of the many Marylanders who have struggled and are struggling with a continuing digital divide. It’s a problem that has been exaggerated and highlighted by the ongoing pandemic and the job losses that have accompanied it. At the beginning of the pandemic, Maryland lost 15% of its jobs and, by the beginning of October, a third of those jobs still have not returned.

While Maryland’s 5.9% unemployment rate has improved since its peak in July 2020, it still remains significantly higher than before the pandemic. If anything, the official unemployment statistics mask the job-related difficulties people face.

U.S. Rep. David J. Trone (D-Md.)

Here and nationwide, Black and Brown communities have been hit particularly hard. Nationwide, 62% of Hispanic Americans and 54% of Black Americans lost some form of household income during the pandemic.

These losses were only further compounded by decreased access to reliable internet connections, which became an essential tool while Marylanders applied for unemployment benefits or searched for jobs online. To this day, more than half a million Maryland homes lack high-speed, reliable internet — a disproportionate number of them being low-income households of color. These broadband limitations became especially prohibitive during the COVID-19 pandemic when increased internet usage strained existing telecommunications infrastructure and forced more people to compete for bandwidth.

The promise of 5G has the potential to help address these intersecting problems. Not only would this next-generation cellular technology drastically increase internet speeds for those who already have access, but it would also create jobs and bring reliable internet access to even more Americans.

According to an economic impact study conducted by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, 5G could create an estimated 9,700 jobs, $850 million in network investment and $1.5 billion in GDP growth for Maryland.

And by providing a more efficient and potentially cheaper alternative to wired connections, 5G deployment in rural and underserved communities would allow those in broadband dead-zones to gain more reliable internet access.

That’s why as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I advocated for increasing federal funding for the Federal Communications Commission to bring broadband and 5G services to unserved and underserved communities, and address broadband affordability and adoption.

I was also proud to secure $1 million in federal funding for a 5G Job Training Bootcamp for Communities of Color in Montgomery County, in partnership with Montgomery College and WorkSource Montgomery. This public-private partnership in coordination with the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program would create 100 entry-level jobs and apprenticeships in the wireless and telecommunications industry, giving students the training and skills needed to support next generation infrastructure across our community.

Considering more than two-thirds of Maryland voters consider 5G infrastructure critical to the health and vitality of our local economies, this important program holds the key to addressing two of our community’s most serious challenges.

No one should either lose their job or struggle to find work simply because they don’t have a reliable internet connection. As a businessman and a family man, I’ve found this reality all too concerning.

By boosting broadband coverage and creating jobs, we can build back, and build back better, from the devastation of this pandemic. As leaders, we must provide American workers the tools they need to forge a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones.