FCC slams US government proposal for nationalised 5G network

30 Jan 2018

Image: christitzeimaging.com/Shutterstock

The FCC is not enthused about a national 5G plan for the US.

The Trump administration is looking at options to mitigate the risk of Chinese espionage activity. As was reported yesterday, these include a potential government-built 5G wireless network.

The idea is currently being debated at a low level and is several months away from presidential consideration.

FCC unanimously disapproves

Major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have been spending big money building their 5G capabilities, and FCC chair Ajit Pai has come out on the side of the telecoms industry.

He said: “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 nationalised 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

Pai added that the US government should instead push spectrum into the marketplace and impose regulations that encourage the private sector to develop new network infrastructure to facilitate a speedy 5G ecosystem.

Leave it to the private sector

This sentiment comes as no surprise, particularly considering Pai’s emphasis on the free market during his campaign to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

The government presentation, leaked by Axios, outlines exactly why the option of a nationalised 5G network is being considered, referencing China having “achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure”.

One of the two Democrat members of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, tweeted that although the cybersecurity issue is a real one, the remedy proposed by the Trump administration “really misses the mark”.

The other members of the FCC have all issued statements opposing the proposal, making the body’s position on the issue a unanimous one. Brendan Carr described the idea as a “non-starter” and Mike O’Rielly dismissed the concept as nonsensical and not reflective of the market reality.

Even if a government-created 5G network was built, there would still be many US citizens using the networks of their existing mobile carriers, so there is no solid guarantee everyone in the country would be consistently utilising the national network.

The government plans, if they go ahead, would likely disrupt the 5G timelines of major carriers in the US.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects