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When it comes to preparing for the next generation of mobile technology, the United States is already playing catch-up to foreign countries. Among the 50 states, though, Nebraska increasingly lags behind.

The state’s reluctance to adopt a law governing small-cell technology – which will be used to boost 4G smartphone data speeds today before powering the next evolution, 5G, when it’s released – leaves decisions and pricing entirely in cities’ hands. High installation and maintenance rates in Lincoln and Omaha, however, have limited development of this cutting-edge technology in Nebraska.

An order by the Federal Communications Commission, which took effect just last month, creates an opportunity the state must seize. With legislative approval, Nebraska would join its neighboring states in welcoming the future of cellphones, smart devices and developing technology, such as autonomous cars.

For the third year in a row, a bill before the Legislature (LB184, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen) aims to encourage investment in this small-cell technology that would increase wireless network speeds.

Similar bills, targeted for the same purpose, passed the Iowa Legislature unanimously and with little opposition in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. The votes in those four states totaled 554 in favor and 25 against. As a result, the infrastructure in the 22 states – red and blue alike – that approved such legislation in bipartisan fashion, is miles ahead of Nebraska.

At issue are small cells, the size and shape of shoe boxes, that help meet the growing demand for mobile data. These devices are frequently attached to light poles and street signs, helping to alleviate present network congestion while also setting their service areas up for increased data speeds in the future.

The new FCC order adds significant weight to the discussion. This bill provides cities substantial authority to retain their permit and review processes while bringing to Nebraska the FCC’s recommendations to improve and streamline small-cell installation.

Nebraska touts its position as the hub of the Silicon Prairie, boasting an impressive number of tech startups that would surprise outsiders. As it promotes this industry – one that helps combat the problematic brain drain of losing college-educated adults to other states – Nebraska must strive to provide the most up-to-date wireless infrastructure it can.

As mobile data use and the number of smart devices will only increase, Nebraska finds itself at a crossroads – with very few small cells.

The iconic line from “Field of Dreams” comes to mind: “If you build it, he will come.”

Nebraska needs to have a regulatory framework in place – one in line with the new FCC order – that allows this small-cell technology to be installed in the state at a reasonable cost. Without it, the future of mobile networks likely won’t be coming to Nebraska anytime soon.

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