Trump considers nationalising 5G network

Axios reported on Sunday that national security officials in the Trump administration are thinking about making a move that would be unprecedented: taking over part of the mobile network in the U.S. The news outlet said some "sensitive documents" it had seen suggest that the federal takeover could help guard against China.

In the powerpoint, two options are described - a national 5G network funded and built by the Federal government or a mix of 5G networks constructed by existing wireless providers.

Another option includes having a 5G network built by a consortium of wireless carriers, the US official said. This push, seen by industry leaders as a national security policy as much as a tech policy, is an effort to build out America's wireless infrastructure without Chinese infiltration. The government aims to decide on a plan by the end of September and build it out over the next few years, said one of the officials in one of the report.

Wireless communication infrastructure is usually built by private companies, like Verizon and AT&T. Pai said that the federal government should not build and operate a nationwide 5G network.

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With smartphones being a large portion of consumer electronics that will eventually feature 5G modems, other applications like self-driving vehicles and IoT products are also expected to take advantage of this breakthrough.

The documents, apparently written by an official at the National Security Council, argue that America needs a centralized 5G network within the next three years because of the rising threat from China.

While it's tempting to dive into the technical weeds about this proposal, the startling thing is how dramatic a change federal ownership of the 5G network would be.

In 2012, concern about possible Chinese interference in the United States led government authorities to issue a report describing Huawei Technologies Co.

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The memo also calls for allies of the United States to also develop and deploy their own 5G networks.

China early this month warned that American protectionism was on the rise after congressional documents showed that Chinese tech giant Huawei's designs on the U.S. market were causing national security concerns in Washington. Why would any sensible American trust them to protect the security of a national network?

Fortunately, deregulation-minded Federal Communications Chair Ajit Pai recognizes how awful this plan is. Well, a government-funded project may get completed sooner it will also likely limit competition as the companies now building networks may not want to compete with a government funded service.

Three of the other four FCC commissioners also said Monday they oppose nationalizing the 5G network.

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The senior administration official told USA TODAY that the reported memo is an old one, but its stated strategy is correct. "I think all of us need to be concerned about the influences of the Chinese government on all those businesses". There'll be a fierce debate inside the Trump administration - and an outcry from the industry - over the next 6-8 months over how such a network is built and paid for. It is unknown at this time whether they will choose to accelerate their deployment, but at the very least we can expect an interest in deploying a secure 5G network with equipment from a trusted supply chain.

  • Gina Adkins