By Katie McAuliffe and Noah Vehafric
With the Department of Defense’s request for information (RFI) asking for input into building and operating a shared civilian-military 5G network across the nation being well over a month old, we can step back and take a look at the broad opposition that exists to such an idea.
This idea of having a nationalized 5G network keeps creeping up time and time again but President Trump has made it clear that he opposes any attempt to nationalize 5G, stating that “In the United States, our approach is private-sector driven and private-sector led.”
Following The President’s statements, Senate Majority Whip John Thune was joined by 18 of his Senate Colleagues in a letter to the President expressing their support of his position and their concerns about the DoD’s RFI. They wrote:
The United States won the global 4G race because we empowered the private sector to build multiple competitive 4G networks by freeing u the necessary spectrum and eliminating unnecessary regulations… nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race.
Senate Republicans weren’t alone. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the top Democrat on the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee expressed concern about the DoD’s RFI. In a letters to the Government Accountability Office and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, they questioned whether the Department would even have the legal authority to do this under The Communications Act, The Miscellaneous Receipts, and the Anti-Deficiency Act:
To GAO they said:
It is our understanding that, by law, the NTIA is tasked with managing federal spectrum uses, but may not permit anyone to use government spectrum for a non-government purpose unless that use has been authorized by the FCC. And while the law permits the NTIA to allow non-federal licensees to use federal spectrum in certain special circumstances, the FCC is still required to make all “allocation and licensing decisions.” In addition, in instances in which there may be mutually exclusive applications for spectrum licenses, the FCC is required by law to conduct a spectrum auction.
To the NTIA they said:
It appears now, through this RFI, that DoD is attempting to usurp the NTIA’s authority
Shortly after these concerns, a coalition of 43 conservative groups, led by Americans for Tax Reform joined together to express their opposition to any such plans. The coalition wrote in a letter that:
Taxpayers should not foot the bill for something that the private sector is already committed to doing through a free market approach… and it makes no sense to think that the DoD, starting from zero, could deploy networks faster or more efficiently.
The experts in the telecommunications industry have rejected the notion of nationalizing 5G, as well. In a letter joined by seven trade associations representing the vast majority of the wireless industry including the NCTA, the CTIA, and USTELECOM who together represent hundreds of companies large and small wrote a letter opposing such an idea.
Additionally, AT&T Executive Vice Pres. Joan Marsh wrote that this RFI upends the already successful, proven methods of investment and development that the private sector is currently engaged.
All five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission have also weighed in on this issue: it’s a bad idea. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated:
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.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel stated in a tweet that this proposed remedy “really misses the mark.”
The support for nationalized 5G is mainly coming from one source: The swamp.
Karl Rove, a political consultant and registered lobbyist for Rivada Networks – a telecommunications company specializing in dynamic spectrum sharing – has been pushing for the idea of a nationalized 5G network almost 18 months. Among others in support of the idea is Whitehouse Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, entrepreneur Peter Thiel, individuals like Professor Susan Crawford who believe it would solve America’s digital divide and national security hawks like Arthur Herman. Another notorious proponent of this solution is Eric Schmidt, founder and former CEO of Google. Schmidt now chairs a DoD advisory committee on defense innovation and has proclaimed that nationalizing 5G may be the only way to beat China in the race to 5G.
But the evidence clearly shows that is not the case. American wireless carriers have already deployed 5G services over much of the country and 5G ready devices are in high demand.
Companies like Google and Rivada have so much to gain financially from this RFI becoming more than just a request. Google was the beneficiary of the failed Utopia municipal broadband network in Utah, which they were able to buy for just a dollar. That’s right. One dollar.
Nationalized 5G has failed in other countries where it has been tried. And there are no reasons to believe the government could accomplish this more effectively than the private sector. The opposition to such an idea will continue as this keeps reappearing.
Photo Credit: Paul and Kami McGuire