02/09/2018 / By David Williams
Does the U.S. need to have its own government-owned and government-controlled 5G network? Some people say that yes, the country does need that kind of infrastructure to have better options regarding internet access in many states. But while the idea could likely gain the support of a substantial portion of the general public, the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner, Ajit Pai, wants to put an end to it before it even begins.
Last month, an exclusive report from the website Axios.com revealed that there were secret plans to launch a “centralized nationwide 5G network” under the Trump administration, based on documents that were recently presented to senior government officials and produced by a source from the National Security Council. However, before these plans could even be made official through a government announcement or anything of the sort, FCC Commissioner Pai has stepped in to say, rather unequivocally, that there’s no way it will ever happen while he’s in office.
According to Pai, there’s simply no way that he would allow for any government-run networks to exist, much less on a nationwide scale. “I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” Pai began. In his view, the public would be better served by the open market, consisting of the various telecom companies operating in the country.
Here’s the text of his full statement:
“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network. The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades — including American leadership in 4G — is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment. What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”
After Pai released his statement, the four other FCC chairs followed suit. Commissioners Brendan Carr, Mignon Clyburn, Michael O’Rielly, and Jessica Rosenworcel all issued statements agreeing with Pai. All of them expressed opposition to any plans for building a nationwide government-run 5G network.
According to the report from Axios, the purported document with the secret plans laid out two different options for the nationwide 5G network. The first one is that the U.S. government should be the one to pay for and eventually build the single network that would be used by everybody. That would be quite unprecedented if it happens, as such an infrastructure is historically private and belonging to the commercial sector.
The second option involved going with what is a Plan B, where wireless providers would be the ones building their own 5G networks. In this scenario, the wireless network providers will be competing with one another and will be heavily involved in the development of the “nationwide network” in every step of the way. The major downside to this is that it would take longer and cost a lot more. However, it has a benefit in that it would cause “less commercial disruption” to the wireless industry than the first option.
Judging from Pai’s previous actions regarding net neutrality in the U.S., it should be no surprise that he opposes any plans for a nationwide 5G network built and owned by the government. Of course, it should also be no surprise to anyone such a large-scale plan would entail an enormous amount of effort, and that it would have some benefits and some downsides as well. Only time will tell who is on the right or wrong side of history in this issue.
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