A proposal to nationalize the 5G network in the U.S. would appear to be the quintessential non-starter. The 5G nationalization proposal, reportedly produced by a senior National Security Council official and shared with senior officials at other federal agencies, has garnered little support but has drawn criticism from many corners.
5G Nationalization Proposal
According to reports published by media outlet Axios, the 5G nationalization proposal advocates nationalization as a means of countering threats posed by China’s dominant position in the manufacture and operation of wireless network infrastructure, as well as the One Belt, One Road Initiative, which aims to enhance China’s influence in other countries. Another concern cited was China’s growing expertise in artificial intelligence.
The 5G nationalization proposal calls for the network to be constructed within three years using spectrum that would be dedicated to the network, with capacity leased to wireless carriers, Axios said.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was one of the first people to voice opposition to the proposal.
“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” said Pai in a statement. “The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades – including American leadership in 4G – is that the market, not government is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”
USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter spoke for many within the wireless industry when he said in a statement that “there is nothing that would slam the [brakes] more quickly on our hard-won momentum to be the leader in the global race for 5G network deployment more quickly than the federal government stepping-in to build those networks. The best way to future-proof the nation’s communications networks is to continue to encourage and incentivize America’s broadband companies — working hand-in-glove with the rest of the internet ecosystem, and in partnership with government, to continue [to] do what we do best: invest, innovate, and lead.”
Wireless carriers already have been quite aggressive in pursuing 5G technology and have even succeeded in accelerating the standards process for the technology. It’s difficult to imagine the government hastening that process, considering its track record on the FirstNet nationwide mobile broadband public safety network.
Stakeholders first began talking about a nationwide public safety network after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. More than sixteen years later, construction on that network is just beginning.
As for concerns about Chinese technology dominance, a follow-up Axios report points out that three non-U.S. companies dominate the wireless equipment market – including Ericsson (Sweden), Nokia (Finland) and China’s Huawei. Major U.S. carriers use only the first two of those three companies as the result of recommendations made several years ago when a key government agency expressed concerns about the possibility that the Chinese government might be able to spy on the U.S. through Huawei telecom equipment.
The 5G nationalization proposal also is likely to meet strong political headwinds at a time when some people already are concerned about what they see as increased government involvement in everyday life, or Big Brother-ism. The possibility of the government retaining control of spectrum for the 5G network also would be unpopular among those who would prefer to see the spectrum auctioned as a means of raising money for other government programs.
The idea that China is gaining substantial expertise in artificial intelligence and that the U.S. needs to keep up or outpace them could be a valid concern. But as Axios points out, that’s a separate issue from 5G technology.
Based on the reaction so far, I doubt we’ll hear much more on the 5G nationalization proposal. Instead, I suspect it will be one of those ill-conceived ideas that will quickly fade from the public policy debate.