Groups rally together to blast idea of nationalized 5G network

FCC headquarters
Even though the idea of a nationalized 5G network was seemingly shut more than a year ago, it keeps re-emerging in some form or another. (Ser Amantio di Nicolao/ CC BY-3.0)

The idea of a nationalized 5G network isn't dead yet. 

More than 30 conservative-leaning groups today sent a letter to Senator John Thune, (R-South Dakota), thanking him for supporting a competitive approach to 5G deployment rather than a government-led approach. Thune serves as chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, which oversees the FCC.

The letter comes after Senator Thune and other Republican lawmakers told President Trump about their concerns surrounding a Request for Information (RFI) released by the Department of Defense (DoD) that “contradicts the successful free-market strategy you have 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, they told the president in a September 30 letter (PDF).

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Signatories of the letter included Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Marco Rubio of Florida. Groups supporting those lawmakers, in today’s letter, include Americans for Taxpayer Reform, American Conservative Union, Center for Individual Freedom and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

Even though the idea of a nationalized 5G network was seemingly shut more than a year ago, it keeps re-emerging in some form or another. Among the questions raised in its ROI last month, the DoD asks how the DoD could own and operate 5G networks for domestic operations.

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In their letter thanking Thune for his efforts, the groups says taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for something that the private sector is already committed to doing through a free market approach, noting that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile already have spent billions in recent years building national 5G networks. Dish Network, which the government itself set up to operate as a fourth facilities-based network under the T-Mobile/Sprint merger agreement, also is building a network.

“The idea of government entering the 5G business has been rejected by policymakers on both sides of the aisle,” the letter states. “More mid-band spectrum is all they need to turbo charge deployment. It makes no sense to think that the DoD, starting from zero, could deploy these networks faster or more efficiently. It would cost tens of billions of taxpayer dollars and take decades to build a network from scratch to nationalize our communications system.”

The letter notes that the nation is awaiting the final results of a spectrum sharing plan that began more than 10 year ago – the plan that created the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band in the U.S. The 150 megahertz in the band originally was used by the Navy and some commercial satellite providers, and now it’s being shared, through a Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) model, that protects incumbent federal users but also opens the spectrum up for commercial users.

The auction for licensed use of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band just concluded last month. “The carriers who won licenses are in the beginning stages of building out their 5G networks. There is no reason to pull the rug out from under them now,” the letter states.

They add that for the government to run a network, it would have to either renege on licenses granted to private users or hoard spectrum at the expense of private industry. “Moreover, the government should not be in the business of ‘competing’ with private industry,” they said. “That’s the business model of China and Russia, not the United States.” 

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