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Trump administration has no interest in building its own 5G network

The proposal, which claims that a government-run 5G network may be needed to guard against spies from China, is opposed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

Published onJanuary 29, 2018

  • A leaked National Security Council memo proposes that the Trump administration build a single, centralized 5G network.
  • The proposal claims such a network is needed to combat high-tech spying from China and other hostile countries.
  • However, this idea is already being opposed by Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai and other sources state it will likely never happen.

A leaked, rather alarming proposal from the US National Security Council says the Trump administration should consider building its own nationwide 5G wireless network. The reason for such an effort, according to the memo, is to combat potential high-tech spying on phone calls from China and other hostile nations. However, this proposal will likely die as a proposal, with no real action taken.

The leaked memo and PowerPoint deck was posted by Axios, which says it was created by a senior NSC official and later presented to other senior officials in the Trump administration. A follow-up report from Reuters states the proposal is still being discussed at a “low level” in the administration, and is at least several months away from being presented to President Donald Trump itself, if in fact it reaches him at all.

In fact, according to Recode, several unnamed White House sources claim that NSC proposal is pretty old, and created by just one member of the Council. That same memo has also not been considered seriously by other tech-based groups inside the Trump White House.

The proposal itself claims that the US government needs to fund and build its own 5G network because “China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain.” The proposal also claims that China has a major position in the construction of network hardware, which should also be avoided by the US. The memo says that the government should consider funding and building a 5G network within three years, then rent access to it to private wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

The entire memo sounds pretty alarmist, but also not entirely out of character with the current administration’s views. Just a few weeks ago, AT&T reportedly ended a deal with HUAWEI to sell its HUAWEI Mate 10 Pro in its stores due to political pressure from US government officials who feared that such a move would allow HUAWEI’s smartphones would spy on US consumers. HUAWEI has repeatedly denied all claims it is selling phones to spy on people for the Chinese government.

The memo also doesn’t seem to take into consideration that all of the major wireless carriers are working on their 5G wireless network plans right now, with some planning to launch as early as 2019. If this proposal to federalize the building of the 5G network goes happen to through, in a way similar to how the government built the National Highway System decades ago, it could delay those launch plans for years. There’s also the fact that some, if not all, of those carriers would likely oppose such a move.

I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network. The market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) January 29, 2018

In fact, one major US government official has already revealed his opposition to this proposal. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai posted a note on his Twitter account today, stating that the private marketplace, not the US government, should be the leader in building 5G networks. Pai stated that a government-built network “would be a costly and counterproductive distraction.” All in all, it would seem that the idea to create a government-run 5G network is dead in the water, at least for now.