In-Depth: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced this bill to require the president to develop a strategy to ensure next-gen mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure security in the U.S. and assist U.S. allies in maximizing their systems’ security, infrastructure and software:
“Our telecom systems continue to advance at a rapid rate, and it’s critical that we develop a strategy to protect potential vulnerabilities from being exploited by our adversaries. I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this legislation to ensure we can defend our national security interests as we develop future technologies.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) notes that a comprehensive strategy addressing 5G networks is needed to ensure these networks’ risks and opportunities are properly managed:
“5G promises to usher in a new wave of innovations, products, and services. At the same time, the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks exponentially harder and more complex. It’s imperative that we have a coherent strategy, led by the President, to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that understands – and addresses – the risks.”
Both Democratic and Republican members of the FCC oppose the idea of a nationally built 5G network. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has expressly stated his opposition to a nationally-built 5G network. In a March 2018 statement, he said:
“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. What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. 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.”
CTIA, a trade association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, also supports privately built 5G networks. Meredith Attwell Baker, CTIA’s president, says, “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.” Building on this idea, USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter says:
“There is nothing that would slam the breaks more quickly on our hard-won momentum to be the leader in the global race for 5G network deployment more quickly than the federal government stepping-in to build those networks. The best way to future-proof the nation’s communications networks is to continue to encourage and incentivize America’s broadband companies -- working hand-in-glove with the rest of the internet ecosystem, and in partnership with government, to continue do what we do best: invest, innovate, and lead.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding, who formerly served as the National Security Council senior director for strategic planning, floated a draft presentation suggesting that China’s potential 5G dominance requires a domestic response in the form of a U.S.-controlled 5G network with access to the network leased to private carriers. Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford, author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” argues that a national initiative to expand 5G coverage to all Americans would benefit customers in the form of faster speeds and lower costs.
This bill has 10 bipartisan cosponsors, including six Republicans and four Democrats.
Of Note: Although most observers consider the question of 5G nationalization to be a settled issue, some Trump administration advisors have recently proposed a nationally-built 5G network as a means to guarantee network security and streamline buildouts that’ll otherwise happen along multiple wireless carriers’ individual timelines and directives. While White House officials have said they don’t support efforts to nationalize the 5G network, a document leaked in January 2018 suggested that the administration was considering the idea. However, the pushback to this idea appears to have caused the administration to put this idea on the back burner.
Some people connected to the Trump administration and re-election campaign notably support nationalized 5G. Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Trump re-election campaign manager Brad Pascale are among those who support a government-backed plan to have the federal government manage 5G airwaves’ sharing with wireless providers. However, others in the Trump administration, such as White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, don’t support nationalized 5G.
In March 2019, despite the Trump administration’s apparent walkback of its nationalized 5G network suggestion, the Trump re-election campaign backed a plan to give the government a role in managing 5G wireless networks. As reported by Politico, the re-election campaign’s plan would entail the government taking 5G airwaves and designing a system to allow its sharing with wireless providers on a wholesale basis. Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Trump 2020 campaign, said, “A 5G wholesale market would drive down costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved. This is in line with President Trump’s agenda to benefit all Americans, regardless of geography." However, the Trump campaign walked back its position shortly after announcing it, saying that there was “no daylight” between the campaign’s and administration’s positions on nationalizing 5G.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has already been actively involved in lobbying foreign governments to secure their 5G networks against potential risks from Chinese government-backed communications equipment suppliers. As of November 2018, the U.S. had asked the Australian, Canadian, South Korean, German, Italian and Japanese governments to block Huawei hardware’s use in their 5G networks.
In response to the U.S. request, one major Italian carrier said it would be “a very tough call” to avoid Huawei equipment. Citing Huawei’s leadership position in the telecom industry, the Italian carrier suggested that it may not be possible to cooperate with the U.S. on its initiative to keep Huawei equipment out of U.S. allies’ 5G networks.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / sarayut)