According to reports from Axios, national security officials in the Trump Administration are exploring the possibility of a federally run national 5G network. Their goal is purportedly to both modernize the country’s communications infrastructure and guard against potential cybersecurity threats from China and other perceived bad actors.
According to CNN, upon learning of President Trump’s 5G proposal, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai strongly dissented. “The market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment…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.”
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also expressed concern about the possibility of a federalized 5G network. “The United States’ leadership in the deployment of 5G is critical and must be done right,” she said. “Localities have a central role to play; the technical expertise possessed by industry should be utilized; and cybersecurity must be a core consideration. A network built by the federal government, I fear, does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race.”
Insiders close to the proposal say that while the Administration is floating the possibility of privately-built and operated 5G networks, national security officials are leaning toward a single, federally controlled system. As Axios notes, “[t]here’ll be a fierce debate inside the Trump administration — and an outcry from the industry — over the next 6-8 months over how such a network is built and paid for.”
Administration insiders are apparently calling this proposal “the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System.” Noting that China has achieved a dominant position in 5G deployment, a memo circulated within the Administration hastens the rapid buildout of American 5G networks.
One component of the supposed proposal for a nationalized 5G network sure to spark ire is that it would effectively trump (no pun intended) state and local authority to take part in decisions related to the new infrastructure roll out. 5G requires placement of an array of small cells (wireless “mini-towers” or conductors that transmit signals in much shorter spans than those used in large, macro towers). Corresponding decisions regarding small cell siting, easements, rights of ray, poll taxes, use fees, etc., are typically decided by state and local governments. The Trump proposal could remove that authority from community regulators/electoral bodies entirely if current reports are true.
Whether the report released by Axios over the weekend represents the current thinking of the Administration is unclear. What is certain, however, is that 5G just got elevated as part of the national dialogue in a major way.