California must try again on 5G upgrade

A telecom technician works on a cell antenna at a business park in Folsom.
A telecom technician works on a cell antenna at a business park in Folsom. Sacramento Bee file

California missed an opportunity to bring our mobile communications networks into the modern age with Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 649, which could have paved the way for 5G to spread across the state.


Brown blocked the bill because he believed it took too much power away from local municipalities that want control over where the small 5G cell towers go, but he left the door open to revisiting the issue.

If a similar bill comes before the Legislature, it will be important for everyone involved to learn from the veto and ensure local officials are motivated to support the policy. This turned into a dispute between technology advocates and local governments. It’s a shame, because it is in everyone’s interest for California to upgrade to 5G.

There’s more at stake here than just reducing how long it takes to stream videos on your phone. According to Accenture, 5G could create more than $160 billion in benefits and savings. California is the global center of innovation. Imagine how much more we could do with a statewide system that moves data as much as 10 times faster than the current network.

A widely deployed 5G network could also help close the digital divide that shuts too many people out of the digital age and make it easier for them to improve their education and find new jobs online.

Local governments should want these benefits to education, health care, transportation and economic development. But local officials were never convinced of the advantages of uniform rules for small cells. While local control is important, it’s disappointing that this important bill died because of that one issue.

Some of this failure falls on tech advocates. We can forge collaborative relationships between technology companies and local communities. We shouldn’t give up on 5G.

Kish Rajan is chief evangelist at CALinnovates, a nonpartisan technology advocacy coalition. He can be contacted at