Seven associations representing communications service providers have written a letter to President Trump urging him not to pursue the idea of a U.S. government 5G network. The letter came in response to a request for information about such a network issued by the Department of Defense.
Signing the letter were representatives from CTIA—The Wireless Association, the Competitive Carriers Association, NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom—The Broadband Association and The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA).
A nationalized 5G network “would be at odds with more than a century of private sector led innovation and investment in communications networks, have a chilling effect on the entire broadband sector, and jeopardize American leadership in the global digital economy,” the letter said.
Private innovation and competition is “the American way and why the United States is the undisputed global leader in communications,” the letter continued.
According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, the DOD is considering the possibility of leasing service on the government 5G network to carriers and enterprises. If that were to happen, it would create a government-subsidized competitor to commercial enterprises, a concept that traditionally has been anathema in many industries, including telecom.
The DOD reportedly is considering using a bid process to select a company to build the government 5G network – a process that the government used previously when it selected AT&T to build the FirstNet nationwide mobile broadband network to support public safety users. Media outlet Axios speculates that former Google chief Eric Schmidt might be interested in funding a company to build the proposed DOD 5G network through his Schmidt Futures venture capital organization, as he has voiced support for the U.S. government 5G network idea.
The news about the proposed U.S. government 5G network comes not long after the DOD said it would allow commercial use of 100 MHz of spectrum between 3.45 and 3.55 GHz. The FCC promptly took steps to enable the commission to conduct an auction of the spectrum to be used on a co-primary basis with government users. That spectrum is a portion of a broader band under DOD control and the DOD reportedly is considering using spectrum in that band for the government 5G network, possibly including the portion between 3.45 and 3.55 GHz.
This isn’t the first time a U.S. government 5G network has been proposed. In 2018, a national security council official reportedly circulated a proposal for such a network to other government agencies but the idea appeared to quickly die when telecom associations and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed opposition to the idea.