The Trump administration explored a government-controlled 5G network for phones and internet because 'we are losing' to China

  • The US federal government has explored the idea of building its own 5G wireless network infrastructure, according to documents obtained by the news website Axios.
  • A recently leaked proposal said that China’s “dominant position” in 5G network infrastructure posed a threat to the US and that a nationalized 5G network would combat that.
  • Private companies like Verizon and AT&T have long built and operated wireless US infrastructure.
  • The move would be unprecedented, and wireless companies have spoken out against the idea.

A member of the US’s National Security Council once pitched the idea of having the United States government build the infrastructure for the coming 5G evolution in wireless communications, according to documents obtained by the news website Axios.

A nationalized wireless network would be unprecedented for the United States, where wireless communication infrastructure is usually built by private companies like Verizon or AT&T. But a senior member of the National Security Council reportedly believes the US will be under a greater cybersecurity threat from China if it does not roll out the 5G networks within three years.

Cell towerJustin Sullivan/GettyA worker on a cellular communication tower in 2014 in Oakland, California.

According to the documents obtained by Axios, the pitch deck describes China as “the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain” and says the country is in a dominant position when it comes to the manufacturing and operation of network infrastructure. As a result, the documents say the US should act quickly to build its own 5G infrastructure and propose government intervention as a way to meet the three-year timeline.

The proposal is not evidence that major policy change will be occurring; in fact, the documents obtained by Axios were described as “old drafts” by an Axios source familiar with the matter who said more recent versions were more “neutral” about the government building 5G infrastructure.

National security council nsc 5g proposal chinaNational Security Council

5G is the evolution of the existing 4G LTE network that delivers wireless data to mobile devices like smartphones. It’s said that 5G network speeds will be so fast and that it will have so much bandwidth that it will be used for much more than simple smartphone data. The self-driving-auto industry, for example, is looking at 5G for the high-intensity communication that’s needed for cars to drive themselves.

Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission chairman who recently achieved notoriety for leading a repeal of net neutrality, said on Twitter that he opposed allowing the federal government to build and operate a 5G network. “The market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” he said.

AT&T told Axios in response to the report that “thanks to multibillion-dollar investments made by American companies, the work to launch 5G service in the United States is already well down the road,” seemingly suggesting that the government’s efforts would be implemented more slowly than the private sector’s ongoing efforts.

How would it affect private wireless companies?

Historically, private wireless companies have built the infrastructure used to deliver data to wireless devices.

If the government built the infrastructure, then the private companies would be renting not only the right to broadcast on various airwaves but the technology used to do so. It would dramatically alter the way private wireless companies are used to doing things, though the government’s latest comments suggest such a plan is unlikely to move forward.

You can find the National Security Council’s proposal to nationalize the 5G wireless infrastructure deck here.

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