GSMA THRIVE NORTH AMERICA: UScellular president and CEO Laurent Therivel (pictured) urged operators to prioritise efforts to close the nation’s digital divide during 5G deployments, noting rural users are increasingly concerned about being left behind as technology marches ahead.

The industry needs to “focus separately on 5G and coverage”, he argued, adding “government coverage plans that focus only on 5G will not fully meet the needs of rural America”.

Therivel said the majority of rural customers’ needs can be served with current technology, but “truly addressing the digital divide, particularly in education, will require improvements in accessibility, which is our job, but also in device access and affordability”.

His comments echoed a call to action by CTIA president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker earlier this week.

Therivel stated UScellular is working on the problem, but needs government assistance to help offset the cost of serving rural areas, which he noted can be as much as three-times higher than urban locations.

He added it is critical 5G “doesn’t become a new barrier for some of the communities that we serve. We can’t lock out hardworking Americans in rural America from productive, upwardly mobile lives”.