Politico reports that President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign wants to advocate for governmental control of 5G wireless airwaves, which would in turn lease access to private wireless providers.
The campaign says that the plan is designed to “drive down costs and provide access” to rural, “underserved” parts of the country with faster internet access, according to the campaign’s national press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. On its face, the thinking behind the strategy appears similar to a plan that was leaked in 2018, which suggested that the federal government providing its own infrastructure that would in turn be used by wireless carriers. That plan earned plenty of backlash from the telecom industry and FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and the Trump Administration quickly walked the memo back, saying that it had no plans to build its own infrastructure.
As my colleague Russell Brandom wrote last year, the idea of a national telecom is appealing, because it could bring connectivity to rural areas — like my home state of Vermont — and provide some competition for private carriers. But, simply rolling out 5G infrastructure isn’t the silver bullet that will fix the issues that those underserved parts of the country faces, especially given the respective track records of companies like AT&T and Verizon (not to mention the state of US politics and the upkeep of its own infrastructure.) THE PLAN IS LESS ABOUT RURAL ACCESS, AND MORE ABOUT COUNTERING CHINA
That’s also if you take the campaign’s word that the plan is designed to bring wireless access to rural America, which isn’t really the case. The goal behind last year’s memo was designed to counter China’s growing dominance in the 5G space, something that the Trump administration has spoken about recently. Trump advisor Newt Gingrich recently penned an op-ed in Newsweek (via Politico) in which he made the argument that a public-private partnership would be a moonshot-type project that would head off Chinese dominance. The administration has also considered barring American companies from using equipment from Chinese companies, and has pressured European allies to avoid deploying it as well, citing potential security risks. Indeed, Trump himself has tweeted about the issue, saying that the US should deploy 5G (even 6G) infrastructure “as soon as possible,” to keep the US from lagging behind China.
Politico notes that the campaign’s plan likely isn’t going to get much traction from the wireless industry, which have already begun slowly rolling out their own 5G networks. It pointed to a blog post from wireless trade association CTIA, which argues that the country shouldn’t try to “out-China China” and that a free-market approach will prevail. Even the author of the 2018 memo, former National Security Council senior director for strategic planning Robert Spalding, doesn’t think that it’s a practical plan, saying that the military would have to share the airwaves with the public. “I know that DoD has no interest in using any kind of department resources in making this a priority.”