June 19, 2018

Should the Federal Government Own the U.S. 5G Network?

30 January 2018, 01:24 | Sam Montgomery

Image Getty Images iStock

Image Getty Images  iStock

A mysterious document obtained by Axios proposes a federally owned, nationwide 5G network to counter national security threats posed specifically by Huawei and ZTE.

The documents reviewed by Axios suggested that the USA must have a centralized 5G network spanning the country within the next three years.

The top USA communications regulator on Monday said he opposed an idea by some security officials to counter the threat of China spying on US phone calls by having the government build and run a national, super-fast 5G wireless network.

The second plan would recruit the help of wireless providers to build their own 5G networks, which would compete with one another. The official said the memo reported by Axios, however, is "dated" and "not representative of the administration's thinking", declining to provide further details.

Wireless communication infrastructure is usually built by private companies, like Verizon and AT&T.

The proposal would upend the entire U.S. mobile network market, rebalance power between wireless carriers, bust through city and state laws, declare two major Chinese companies to essentially be enemies of the state, and cost up to $200 billion.

The proposal by the National Security Council (NSC) is still in the early stages: an alternative could see telecoms operators working together to build a joint network.

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of the wireless industry group CTIA, added that while 5G is important, "the government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the United States wireless industry to win the race to 4G". The FCC regulates the nation's airwaves and auctions them off to phone, cable and broadcasting companies for use in networks.

Nationalizing the 5G wireless network is Trump security team's next plan which is an effort of protecting the country's wireless systems from China and also concerns about cybersecurity. What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. They also reportedly said that a staffer had simply made this suggestion and that the policy of a centralized 5G network is not imminent and probably won't ever be. The news outlet also warned that if the plan were to move forward, a "fierce debate" will probably ensue throughout the Trump administration. Well, a government-funded project may get completed sooner it will also likely limit competition as the companies now building networks may not want to compete with a government funded service. "I think all of us need to be concerned about the influences of the Chinese government on all those businesses".

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, said in a statement Monday that the federal government should not build and operate a nationwide 5G network.

China responded to the Axios report today. Huawei's deal with AT&T to sell its phones through the carrier had fallen through earlier this month.

The Trump administration's 5G plan comes on the heels of the scuttled smartphone distribution deal in the USA between Huawei Technologies and AT&T because of U.S. security concerns.

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