Trump Administration Mum on Nationalizing 5G

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, center left, and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, right, arrive before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation hearing on infrastructure Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, center left, and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, right, arrive before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation hearing on infrastructure Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

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The proposal is still on the table, according to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, though localities may find their authority on public rights of way preempted regardless.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration hasn’t made a final decision on whether to nationalize 5G or allow wireless carriers to build their own networks, according to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

During Senate Commerce Committee testimony on infrastructure Wednesday in D.C., Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, asked Ross about the status of a memo leaked in January proposing the federal government fund and establish a single 5G network within three years that wireless providers would access via lease.

National security officials argued such a network would be more secure from cyber threats posed by China, and small cell installation would no longer be regulated by cities or states.

“We regard 5G as quite essential, both to the commercial interests and to the national security interests of the country,” Ross said. “So the president is very keenly interested in making sure we are the leader in 5G.”

Cruz worried nationalizing 5G would hinder, not help, the U.S. in its race to deploy 5G faster than China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

The four national wireless carriers in the U.S. already plan to deploy 5G later this year and have asked the Federal Communications Commission to preempt localities on inconvenient reviews, permitting times and lease costs.

“Let me make clear at least my position—and I think the position of a great many people in Congress—is that it would be a grave mistake to nationalize 5G,” Cruz said. “And I think you would face very significant resistance in both houses for any proposal to do so.”

Should their traditional business models go undisrupted, wireless providers anticipate 5G boosting the annual U.S. gross domestic product by as much as $500 billion, Cruz said, and creating as many as 3 million jobs.

Still, carriers have made clear dense urban areas, not rural ones, will benefit from any initial 5G deployments. Nationalizing 5G might offer greater reach.

“Well, I certainly don’t want to sound as though I’m advocating it,” Ross said. “I just don’t want to get out ahead of the president.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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