Trump Administration Mulling Nationalization of 5G Network

Top national security officials within the Trump administration are reportedly weighing whether to build a nationalized mobile wireless network within the U.S., an effort aimed at protecting the country's wireless systems from China and other outside actors.

Source: The Hill, WSJ | Published on January 28, 2017

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Senior officials learned about the administration's proposal to centralize the nation's 5G network recently, according to a memo and PowerPoint deck presentation obtained by Axios on Sunday.

According to Axios, the documents lays out two options that detail how the administration can go about developing such a network within three years, an unprecedented step in a historically private industry.

The first option says the U.S. government can fund and build the single network on its own, without the consultation of private companies.

The second plan would recruit the help of wireless providers to build their own 5G networks, which would compete with one another. The documents say one of the "pros" of this plan is "less commercial disruption" to the wireless industry than the first plan.

One source familiar with the documents' drafting told Axios that the second option would not serve its purpose in protecting the U.S. against outside actors like a centralized network could.

The source added that the internal debate within the administration would hinge on including carriers in the process or going at it alone. They may call on wireless carriers to team up and help build the network, in what the source described as a call to action to protect the country and put aside their business models.

The Trump administration in the memo argues such a plan would kick off a "new paradigm" for the wireless industry by creating something similar to "the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System."

The U.S. must make moves to advance in the wireless space because "China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure," the PowerPoint says, according to Axios.

"China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain." 

The plan would move away from the current system in several ways, particularly from the federal government leasing airwaves to companies that independently build and operate their own systems. 

The memo paints such a move as being in the interest of national security, while simultaneously creating a secure pathway for new technologies, according to the report.

The memo also suggests that the U.S. could provide its allies with the 5G network in an effort to protect the countries against China's growing influence in this space.

"Eventually, this effort could help inoculate developing countries against Chinese neo-colonial behavior," the memo says, according to Axios.

The report notes that the wireless providers in the U.S. are already dedicating resources to deploying 5G networks, as have other countries like South Korea and Japan.

FCC Chairman Against Proposal

In a statement today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said, “I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network.”

In his statement, Mr. Pai said the history of wireless network development over the past three decades shows that “the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.” He suggested that the government should push more access to airwaves into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage private-sector deployment of next-generation infrastructure.

He added, “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”