Trump officials vow ‘America first, 5G first’

Larry Kudlow, who replaced Gary Cohn as Trump's top economic advisor in May, said that the Trump administration will take an "America first, 5G first" approach to the wireless industry. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)

Top White House officials today held a “5G Summit” with one basic message: How can the Trump administration encourage the private sector to deploy 5G as quickly as possible?

The meeting, kept largely under wraps until this morning, essentially serves as a stake in the ground by President Trump to figure out ways to aid wireless carriers and the rest of the wireless industry with regulations that will speed up the deployment of the wireless industry’s next-generation technology.

Although other U.S. government agencies like the FCC and the NTIA have long dealt in spectrum and network deployment issues, the White House summit today was the first major signal by the Trump administration that it also wants to play an active role in smoothing regulations for 5G rollouts. The summit collected executives from the wireless industry with officials from the Trump administration—including Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, and Michael Kratsios, deputy U.S. CTO and deputy assistant to the President at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the agency that held the event—along with top House and Senate lawmakers and officials from the FCC and the NTIA.

Officials described the event as an opportunity for White House representatives to listen to wireless industry executives and to learn ways the Trump administration can play a role in 5G.

But Kudlow—who replaced Gary Cohn as Trump's top economic advisor in May—made it clear that the Trump administration wants to give the wireless industry what it needs to deploy 5G quickly.

Kudlow said the administration is taking an “America first, 5G first” approach to the issue. Specifically, he said the administration will work toward policies—including lower taxes and deregulation—that promote growth in the private sector.

“The White House is behind this free market approach,” he noted.

Kudlow also boasted of the Trump administration’s efforts to encourage U.S. economic growth, particularly through corporate tax cuts. “We’re crushing it, we’re absolutely crushing it,” Kudlow said of the overall U.S. economy. “And I want the 5G to be in that crushing it thing.”

Interestingly, Kudlow said that “I’m not here to make war on China,” in addressing worries that China could overtake the United States in the world’s move toward 5G. But he did say that the administration will work to make sure U.S. companies can compete on the global stage.

“I hope this conference is a great success,” he added.

Other officials speaking publicly at the event included FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the NTIA’s David Redl and Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. Although most speakers in their opening remarks discussed recent developments in the 5G field—such as the FCC’s recent vote to speed up small cell deployments—a few new, notable topics came up in comments from officials and lawmakers.

Specifically, Rep. Walden noted that the U.S. needs to protect and encourage the supply chain for 5G. Although he did not discuss any specific policies or positions, he did say that “there are some who think we can simply ban vendors from American markets, but the marketplace for hardware and software is global.”

Those comments are particularly noteworthy given that the FCC embarked on a proposal to tacitly block any network operator—big and small—from using Universal Service Funds to purchase equipment from companies that pose a security threat. That proceeding at the FCC is widely seen as an attempt by the U.S. government to block Chinese network equipment vendors Huawei from competing in the market.

Walden did not name Huawei and also did not go into specifics of his position on the topic. No other speakers at the event discussed supply chain issues in their public remarks.

Separately, mid-band spectrum received a notable amount of attention from the likes of Rep. Walden and NTIA’s Redl. Speakers generally argued that a robust 5G marketplace will use a wide range of spectrum, from low-band spectrum to high-band spectrum. Officials and lawmakers acknowledged that the FCC is working to auction high-band spectrum starting in November, but several speakers called on regulators to release more mid-band spectrum for wireless network operators and others.

And Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also noted that both licensed and unlicensed spectrum should be made available in the marketplace.

After the meeting, CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement that "it was especially noteworthy that today’s event focused so much on the need to free up more mid-band spectrum for commercial wireless use to help meet this goal and to keep up with skyrocketing consumer demand for mobile data. We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with the Administration and policymakers to make 5G a reality.”

Article updated Sept. 28 with comments from CTIA.

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