FCC Chairman Pai: Private sector should build 5G; security is key issue

Speaking at the Prague 5G Security Conference in the Czech Republic today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said for the second time this week that the right approach to 5G is private-sector driven and private-sector-led, as President Trump put it at the 5G White House event last month.

Yet, like a recurring bad dream, there have been repeated calls for government control of America’s 5G networks, Pai noted during his remarks (PDF) at the National Spectrum Consortium 5G Collaboration event in Arlington, Virginia, earlier this week.  

“Let me be clear: I oppose any proposal for the government to build, own, or operate a commercial next-generation wireless network,” he said. “The history of 4G has proven that the market, not government, is best-positioned to drive investment and innovation in the wireless space. This is especially the case considering that 5G will be more capital-intensive than 4G.”

The best thing the government can do to foster 5G is to get the spectrum out there and get rid of bureaucratic red tape for infrastructure builds, which is what the FCC is doing with the 5G FAST plan, according to Pai. The FAST plan includes three main components: pushing more spectrum into the marketplace, updating infrastructure policy and modernizing outdated regulations.

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Toward the goal of freeing up more spectrum, the FCC recently finished the 28 GHz auction and it’s wrapping up the 24 GHz auction. Later this year, it will auction the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands; the 3.5 GHz auction will happen next year.

But, given the theme of the 5G security conference in Prague today, Pai noted some of the things the FCC is doing in the name of national security.

For one thing, the FCC has proposed to prohibit the use of broadband funding it administers to purchase equipment or services from any company that poses a national security threat to the integrity of U.S. communications networks or the supply chain. For another, the FCC will vote next week to reject China Mobile’s petition to provide international telecom services in the United States.

Looking at the bigger picture, “we believe 5G security issues need to be addressed upfront,” he said in prepared remarks. “Making the right choices when deployment is beginning is much easier than trying to correct mistakes once network construction and operation is well underway. Moreover, decisions that impact 5G security need to be made with the long term in mind. Focusing too heavily on short-term considerations could result in choices that are penny-wise but pound foolish.”

Pai also remarked on the significance of presidents and prime ministers getting involved in 5G. Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček introduced the Prague 5G conference, and President Trump hosted the 5G event at the White House last month.

“When Presidents and Prime Ministers get personally involved in a communications issue, the message is clear: 5G is a critical subject with major implications for economic growth, national security, and our quality of life,” he said.