In a rare display of bipartisan unity, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai joined his fellow FCC commissioners, members of Congress, wireless industry executives and representatives of public interest groups in voicing opposition to a Trump Administration proposal envisioning the construction of a nationwide, federally-controlled fifth-generation (5G) wireless network which—in the words of a National Security Council (NSC) memo—would protect against cybersecurity threats posed by “China and other bad actors.”
The plan to launch a government-built 5G network in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band used by C-band satellite operators was disclosed Monday night by news outlet Axios. According to Axios, documents detailing the proposed network were developed by a senior NSC official and presented recently to leaders of various executive branch agencies. Voicing concern about the dominance of Chinese manufacturers in the market for 5G network infrastructure and the security risks of such dominance, the NSC memo contends that “the best network from a technical, performance and security perspective will be single block, USG secured, and have the highest probability for project success.” The memo further recommends the standardization of siting restrictions with a construction timeline of three years. An alternate plan outlined by the memo would involve the construction of multiple 5G networks by the nation’s wireless carriers in mid-band channels on 100 MHz spectrum that would operate alongside the government-controlled network.
Speaking to reporters, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that “we’re in the very earliest stages of the conversation” and added: “there have been absolutely no decisions made on what [the network] would look like [and] what role anyone would play in it.” Although several analysts voiced doubt that plans for such a network would actually come to fruition, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made it quite clear that “I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network.” Charging that the Administration’s plans “do not recognize the current marketplace,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly pledged to “do everything in my power to provide the necessary resources . . . to allow this private sector success to continue” as Commissioner Brendan Carr termed the idea as “a non-starter.”
Democrats at the FCC and on Capitol Hill struck a similar tone. As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn proclaimed that “a network built by the federal government . . . does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race,” Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) voiced concern “that constructing a nationalized 5G network would be both expensive and duplicative.” While House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) agreed that “you’ve got to get a partner” for network security, he maintained: “the government taking over and running it is not a good idea.”