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Pandemic underscores Maryland’s need for 5G network | READER COMMENTARY

In this Sept. 26, 2018, file photo visitors stand near a 5G logo at a display the PT Expo in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
In this Sept. 26, 2018, file photo visitors stand near a 5G logo at a display the PT Expo in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File) (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

While the way we communicate, work and live has evolved in recent years, the rate of change has accelerated dramatically in the last few months. The novel coronavirus has forced us to stay home and revealed just how much we rely on technology to go about our daily lives. For many, the ability to get online has tethered us to loved ones, careers, education and vital resources.

Due to a reliable telecommunications network, critical institutions and many businesses that sustain our economy were able to quickly pivot to virtual solutions (”How one West Baltimore church is bridging the digital divide,” July 27). Maryland’s health care systems made the shift to telemedicine to continue to serve patients while providing an added layer of safety. Maryland’s schools shifted from classrooms to online learning platforms where students stream videos, receive digital assignments, live chat with teachers and peers and learn new material through dynamic media. Although we do not yet know what new normal will emerge from the pandemic, we do know that a significant percentage of our commerce and personal lives will remain virtual even after businesses and institutions are able to re-open, making continued innovation and a reliable network crucial.

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Today, 37% of Americans go online mostly using a smartphone and three million children in the U.S. do not have internet access at home. Improvements in connectivity and internet access are crucial for underserved populations that disproportionately rely on their wireless devices to apply for jobs, find information about health conditions, do homework and access government services. These challenges underscore the need for the creation of a faster, more reliable wireless network — 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity with speeds up to 20 times faster than current service. With 5G, we could see better health outcomes and expanded access with connected devices — from remote patient monitoring to optimized telemedicine — with improved security to protect both patients and doctors alike. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence could also make remote work and educational experiences fully immersive.

Maryland is not there yet which is why the Greater Baltimore Committee recently signed on to the MD5G Partnership to support the expansion of 5G, educate Marylanders on the infrastructure required to meet the demands of our state’s future and emphasize the importance of statewide solutions. As Americans rely more and more on their wireless devices, Maryland needs 5G to meet the increasingly data-driven reality of modern life. Solving this problem begins with the deployment of wireless infrastructure. With the support of individuals, organizations, community and elected leaders, we can foster innovation in our region and ensure our communities are better prepared to face whatever yet-to-be-imagined challenges lie in wait.

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Donald C. Fry, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

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