Experts Address China Threat, Reiterate Need for Spectrum Reallocation

By: Henry Rademacher

On Tuesday, February 25, the American Consumer Institute (ACI) hosted an event on the future of spectrum policy in the United States. Topics of discussion included 5G deployment, recent actions taken by the Federal Communications Commission, and the increasing threat China poses to the U.S.

The event, Highest and Best Use: Alleviating the Spectrum Crunch, featured experts from a diverse group of organizations involved in the telecommunications industry. Panelists included Nicol Lee-Turner of the Brookings Institution, Evan Swarztrauber of the FCC, Patrick Welch of Verizon, Graham Dufault of ACT (The App Association), and Kelly Cole of CTIA. The panels were moderated by Krisztina Pusok of ACI and Katie McAuliffe of Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty.

A special appearance was made by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) who spoke about what Congress is doing on spectrum scarcity, and what actions should be taken to prevent China from winning the race to 5G.

Regarding the growing threat posed by China and its telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, Senator Blackburn stressed that the U.S. needs to act quickly to make up ground in the 5G race. “We need to efficiently reallocate mid-band spectrum and we need to get this done as soon as possible,” said Senator Blackburn.

Although all spectrum is extremely valuable, mid-band spectrum is especially important for the development of 5G networks, as it is optimal for wide-area and indoor coverage.

It is well known that more spectrum needs to be freed up in order for the U.S. to have 5G networks that can compete effectively with China. The FCC’s recently announced C-Band Plan is expected to repurpose 280 megahertz of C-Band spectrum for 5G deployment. Senator Blackburn was strongly supportive of the C-Band Plan, stating that it was “long overdue.”

The FCC has been aggressive in confronting the China threat and expediating the deployment of 5G in the U.S. Evan Swarztrauber, Policy Advisor to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, reiterated the FCC’s commitment on Tuesday, stating “The FCC takes supply chain extremely seriously which is why we voted to ban the use of taxpayer money to purchase equipment from Huawei and ZTE.”

Tuesday’s event featured a firm consensus that China will be the world’s leader in 5G if the U.S. does not take the proper steps to close the gap. According to Nicol Lee-Turner of the Brookings Institution, “They (China) own the Chinese telecom companies so it makes it very easy for them to have relationships.”

Swarztrauber added, “China’s national intelligence law requires any company to comply with any request from the government… without informing the citizens.”

According to Senator Blackburn, who serves on the Senate Judiciary and Armed Service Committees, “The Chinese are completely undeterred even though we know that Huawei’s help, no matter how cheap and convenient it may be, comes with a terrible price.”

The stakes are especially high in the race to 5G. In the near future, it will become a pillar of the global economic system. Because most connected devices will run on 5G, it will have implications for essentially every sector of the global economy. According to Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at CTIA, “Whatever country gets to 5G first sort of owns it economically. When we dominated 4G, the App Explosion happened here in the U.S.”

The U.S. economy’s historic growth over the past decade has been largely underwritten by growth within the tech sector, with most devices operating on 4G networks. If China ends up in a position of 5G leadership comparable to what the U.S. has had with 4G, it could result in unprecedented profits flowing to Chinese companies instead of American ones.

Fortunately, there are reasons to believe the U.S. can come out on top. The U.S. has the world’s largest and strongest economy, still far ahead of China by almost every metric. Also, the U.S. has been the innovation capital of the world for more than 100 years, and innovation is the heart of technology.

Crucially, leaders like Senator Blackburn are becoming more aggressive in addressing the China threat and encouraging Congress to take action, rather than twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing. 

At this point, Congress and the private sector are in agreement that spectrum reallocation is essential for the development of 5G networks that will help position the U.S. to remain the world’s leading economy.