Trump administration’s idea for government-built 5G network met with loud resistance from US telecoms
5G, which promises blistering download speeds, is coming soon. But what is 5g? USA Today
The telecom industry wants this lightning-speed message to get to the U.S. government: We should build the nation’s first 5G network, not you.
Monday’s response from the telecom industry to a leaked memo that revealed the U.S. administration was considering building its own 5G network to bring super-fast Internet to consumers and businesses — a government effort designed to thwart what the Administration and some lawmakers say is potential Chinese espionage — was fast and pointed.
The Republican-appointed head of the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T, and an influential wireless trade group said the government should keep out of what’s already a fast and furious effort to build the next generation of Internet, which promises Internet connections ten to 100 times faster than current networks.
“The wireless industry agrees that winning the race to 5G is a national priority,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA, a group that counts AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile as members, said in a statement. “The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.”
5G wireless networks are expected to improve connectivity for smartphones and tablets and home broadband networks, as well as self-driving cars and an endless lineup of other devices. They’re one of the key ways carriers expect to differentiate themselves in the tight race to gain subscribers.
Verizon and AT&T already have 5G trials operating, with initial deployment beginning this year and continuing in the months ahead.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that he opposed any federal proposal to run a national 5G network, instead recommending that government support the ongoing industry projects.
“The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades—including American leadership in 4G—is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” he said. “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.”
The protests followed a report, first obtained and reported on by news site Axios, that the Trump Administration is considering such a nationwide initiative, in part to prevent infiltration by China. The Trump national security team is in the early stages of deciding whether or not to build and operate it, said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations on a national security issue.
A presentation was recently made on the topic by a senior National Security Council official to senior administration officials, Axios said.
A centralized, secure national 5G network could be built within three years and represent “the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System,” according to the memo acquired by Axios.
The senior administration official told USA TODAY that the reported memo is an old one, but its stated strategy is correct. The goal is no secret, the official said, citing a line in the recently released national security strategy: “We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide. These improvements will increase national competitiveness, benefit the environment, and improve our quality of life.”
Another goal, the official said, is to thwart Chinese cyber espionage and beat them to the punch on 5G technology.
Chinese tech companies seeking to do business in the U.S. increasingly have faced resistance from the Trump administration and some lawmakers, who have cited concerns about the potential for Chinese technology deployed in the U.S. to monitor and spy on the American public.
Participants in an October 2017 workshop held by the Council on Foreign Relations suggested that Chinese access to U.S. networks and digital technology could strengthen that country’s own cyber defenses while “sharpening its cyberattack potential” against U.S. infrastructure.
Earlier this month, AT&T had been expected to announce it would make available Chinese-based phone maker Huawei’s flagship Mate 10 Pro smartphone on its network in the U.S., but the plan was scrapped, reportedly because of U.S. pressure on AT&T to cut ties. As far back as October 2012, a Congressional investigation voiced concerns that Huawei and ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications hardware maker, if allowed to provide equipment for U.S. infrastructure, could “undermine core U.S. national-security interests.”
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) introduced proposed legislation to prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing or leasing telecommunications equipment and/or services from Huawei and another Chinese firm ZTE.
Conway told USA TODAY the legislation was meant to fend off Chinese government infiltration into U.S. networks. “They’re smart, they’re aggressive, and they’re not to be underestimated,” he said. “I think all of us need to be concerned about the influences of the Chinese government on all those businesses.”
Also earlier this month, the $1.2 billion sale of money-transfer service Moneygram to Ant Financial, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, was blocked by the U.S. committee that reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies.
China has denied that its companies are trying to install spyware.
“I don’t think it’s the intention of Chinese companies to sell their products in the USA for espionage,” China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai told USA TODAY last week. “In terms of technology the U.S. is still the most powerful, the most advanced country in the world. I don’t think anybody can do anything that you cannot discover. At the same time the U.S. is in position to do many things that we are not aware of.”
The U.S. administration official speaking on anonymity said it will be at least six to eight months before a recommendation reaches the president’s desk. Building the network could take at least three years, the official said. An alternative to the government building the network itself would be to work with some kind of private consortium, he said.
About 9% of smartphones globally will support 5G in 2019, with the U.S. and South Korea leading in deployment, estimates tech research firm Gartner.
AT&T, which recently announced plans to begin offering mobile 5G service in a dozen markets later this year, said in a statement that the industry is “already well down the road” to 5G.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who is the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that there are “serious concerns relating to the Chinese government’s influence into network equipment markets.”
But a nationalized 5G network could be “both expensive and duplicative, particularly at a time when the Administration is proposing to slash critical federal investments in R&D and broadband support for unserved areas.”
FCC commissioners of both parties criticized the proposal. Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, called the suggestion “a non-starter.” And Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, agreed that the U.S. is in a race with other nations to deploy 5G, “but the remedy proposed here really misses the mark.”
If the leaked proposal is an attempt at a trial balloon, it’s a failed one, said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who in a statement, also said the options being considered, if accurate, “are nonsensical and do not recognize the current marketplace.”
“Instead, U.S. commercial wireless companies are the envy of the world and are already rushing ahead to lead in 5G,” O’Rielly said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.