Carriers big and small are uniting against efforts to nationalize 5G, with CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) among the signatories in a letter sent to President Trump urging his administration to oppose such moves.
The Department of Defense (DoD) set off protests far and wide when it issued a Request for Information (RFI) last month exploring how the DoD could own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations. It also talks about using dynamic spectrum sharing – in a generic sense, not the 3GPP’s specific definition of DSS – alongside commercial 5G.
CTIA and CCA were joined by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), NCTA – the Internet and Television Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in sending the October 9 letter to Trump.
“Whether it is access to spectrum, fiber backhaul infrastructure, antennas and radios, or any other elements necessary to power resilient, secure and fast 5G networks – we will always be better off with private innovation and competition. That is the American way and why the United States is the undisputed global leader in communications,” the organizations wrote.
They also brought up their ability to respond during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has emphasized the need to close the digital divide. “Nationalized infrastructure will only create additional obstacles and challenges as we work to connect all Americans, including those who are hardest to reach, with high-speed Internet service. It would also unnecessarily expose our infrastructure to greater security risks,” they said.
The company often cited as being an instigator of the nationalized 5G concept is Rivada Networks, and it has denied having any interest in the U.S. government owning or operating a 5G network. It is actively pursuing partners to build a wholesale wireless network, either in or outside the U.S.
The Wall Street Journal last week reported on cell phone carriers' lobbying activity against the plan for a government-run 5G network, noting that AT&T CEO John Stankey visited the White House on Sept. 30 to argue against it.
“As America’s largest infrastructure investor, it was another opportunity for us to visit with policy makers about key topics like 5G, spectrum policy and how the government can help foster expansion of internet access and affordability. Competing with China on 5G is about more than just spectrum, it requires considerable investment in fiber broadband and smart regulation,” AT&T said in a statement.
Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers announced Friday that they were launching an inquiry into the DoD’s intentions. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania wrote to both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) expressing their concern and requesting information.
In their letter to the NTIA, the two lawmakers wrote that they fear DoD’s RFI represents an attempt to usurp NTIA’s authority. They also pointed out that two of the questions DoD asks in its RFI – how DoD can “own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations,” and whether DoD “should consider spectrum leasing as an alternative to reallocation” – demonstrate a misunderstanding of the law. Pallone and Doyle wrote that no government agency owns spectrum, and they questioned the Trump administration’s political motives for making such inquiries.
That came after a group of GOP senators, led by Senator John Thune of South Dakota, sent a letter to Trump on September 30 expressing their concerns about the DoD’s ROI that “contradicts the successful free-market strategy” that Trump has embraced for 5G. “Rather than rely on private industry and market forces to foster multiple, facilities-based 5G networks, the RFI seeks information on a government-managed process for 5G networks,” the lawmakers wrote. "Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race."