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Federal 5G Network Proposal Is Panned by FCC and Industry

The White House said the idea was very preliminary. The administration has thrown its support behind the development of more secure wireless networks using 5G technology, according to two administration officials who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were at an early stage. Some White House officials have pushed for greater federal involvement in the private sector’s efforts, but the administration doesn’t prefer the idea of the government building a network on its own with public funding, the people said.

Discussions on the government’s involvement in 5G networks are likely to take at least six months before reaching the president for consideration. In a news conference on Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said any discussion was at its “earliest stages.”

The Trump administration is becoming increasingly concerned about the economic and security threats posed by China’s development of mobile technology and 5G networks. Among the concerns is the ability of the Chinese government to spy on American citizens and businesses.

The American government has long been suspicious of Huawei, a giant Chinese technology company that is behind much of the 5G network development in that country. This month, AT&T dropped its plan to carry a new phone model from Huawei. The company has declined to comment on its reasons for dropping the deal, although government officials have expressed concerns over security on those phones.

The introduction of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless technology, is expected to make browsing and streaming over mobile phones much faster. It is also expected to promote the adoption of what is known as the internet of things, where all sorts of machines and appliances — such as refrigerators, cars and health monitors — connect to the internet with nearly zero lag time.

Photo

A 5G immersion display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. The Trump administration has become more concerned about threats posed by China’s development of mobile technology and 5G networks. Credit David Becker/Getty Images

Wireless companies said that they had already started building their 5G networks and that any government-run network would be disruptive.

“Industry standards have been set, trials have been underway since 2016, and later this year AT&T is set to be the first to launch mobile 5G service in 12 U.S. locations,” AT&T said in a statement.

Any nationalization project could be a difficult sell politically, since the Trump administration and other Republicans have strongly criticized big government projects. But it lays bare the differences between two camps in the administration that have been present since Mr. Trump’s inauguration: economic nationalists and China hawks.

Among those officials aggressively pushing the 5G network are two China hard-liners: Gen. Robert S. Spalding II, the senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, and Peter Navarro, the director of the White House national trade council.

On trade issues, Mr. Navarro has faced off against officials who favor a more free-market approach, like Gary D. Cohn, the president’s chief trade adviser. The national security adviser, Gen. H. R. McMaster, has also opposed aggressive trade moves against China, in part because the administration needs China’s support to rein in North Korea.

White House officials said the debate over a 5G network had not yet developed enough to pit the two camps against each other. But one official said that if the telecommunications industry was not able to agree on plans to rapidly develop a network, it could yet lead to such a split.

Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, is among those concerned about China and the development of 5G technology. When he was still in the White House, Mr. Bannon met with American telecommunications executives about what would be needed to develop a robust 5G network. He has told associates that he fears China could dominate the technology.

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