Update: Several senior White House officials told Recode Monday that the Trump administration has no plans to build a “nationalized” US 5G network. The presentation, compiled by an unnamed senior NSC aide, was merely a dated proposal that will probably never see the light of day, the officials said.
The administration sources also pointed out that the FCC has a much larger role in setting broadband policy, and Ajit Pai, the current FCC chairman, has said he opposes the nationalization idea.
The NSC, they said, is only one component of a much larger decision-making process on the part of the federal government to set broadband policy. Its say is not final on these matters — and its memo does not appear to have gained traction with other tech-focused arms of the White House, according to multiple sources within the Trump administration.
A spokesman for the NSC, meanwhile, did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday.
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Last night, Axios dropped a bombshell on the week’s already brimming news cycle when it published a report and PowerPoint deck created by a National Security Council staffer outlining the necessity of building a nationalized 5G network to guard against cyberthreats.
But while the PowerPoint portrayed a nationalized 5G network as essential for national security, Axios said Monday that the report is generating a fair amount of blowback.
According to Axios, those sounding alarm bells range from those who fear it could lead to greater surveillance to those who see it as an unwarranted encroachment on free enterprise. Still others worry that government control of key communications networks could threaten free speech.
Both the FCC and CTIA issued statements this morning opposing the idea. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai opposes the idea.
“The wireless industry agrees that winning the race to 5G is a national priority. The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.”
– CTIA president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker via statement
“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network.”
“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.”
“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”
– FCC chairman Ajit Pai
Even if the US government builds and pays for the 5G network, it will need the support of the wireless industry – carriers, equipment vendors and device makers – to make it a reality.
So far, that doesn’t appear likely.
Three of the four major wireless carriers either declined comment to Axios or didn’t return requests for comment. The only one that did speak out, AT&T, said it couldn’t comment specifically on the proposal, but added that private sector work on 5G is “already well down the road.”
Twitter VP Colin Crowell noted that “[n]ationalization of a key resource in the nation’s wireless infrastructure would be a dramatic departure from policies predicated on the free market driving innovation, competition, and consumer benefits.”
But further clarification may be provided in short order. David McCabe notes that David Redl, the top Commerce official on spectrum, is appearing at the State of the Net conference this morning, while FCC chairman Ajit Pai presides over an open FCC meeting on Tuesday – which he always follows with a press conference.