Nationalize 5G in the US? LOL, WTF?!

The stunning report by Axios that national security officials are considering a plan to take control of 5G networks in the US is so mind-boggling that it was hard for me to get past the initial shock and begin to make sense of the implications.

Then I realized why. There is no way to make sense of the implications. And more importantly, there's no way this proposal is going to get far enough for any of those implications to matter. (See Trump Could Nationalize 5G – Report.)

Forget for the moment that the team behind the proposal is suggesting that federal funds could pay for a national 5G rollout. As ridiculous as that sounds, by tying the recommendations to a national security objective, maybe some way, somehow there's an appetite to spend that kind of money.

Seems unlikely, but who knows?

What I find impossible to believe, however, is that the telecom sector -- with everything it has to lose and all the political power in its arsenal -- would EVER let this happen. Take away AT&T's right to capitalize on the next generation of wireless communications services? Not on your life.

All three Republican Commissioners in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have already come out unequivocally against the proposal.

The telecom lobby has demonstrated its strength at the state level recently on the issue of small cell siting and other broadband attachments. Despite massive municipal backlash, roughly a dozen states have already passed legislation giving network operators virtually unfettered access to poles and other structures in the public right of way. The idea is to speed up 5G and other wireless deployments, but the method has local mayors furious about making way for private industry at the expense of protecting public interests.

Not only have telecom operators pushed their agenda at the state level, but now they're acting within the FCC to recommend similar policies nationwide. (See Pole Control Fight Gets Net Neutrality Nasty.)

And further, the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in the House of Representatives is literally set for a hearing tomorrow that would consider prioritizing federal broadband funds for states that follow standardized siting guidelines.

Add to that most recent example the fact that Internet service providers have fought off financially concerning public subsidies in the form of municipal broadband legislation for years. Network operators haven't always been successful, but you only have to look at North Carolina and Tennessee to understand the limits of what muni broadband providers have been able to do in the face of telecom lobbying power. (See Is Wheeler's FCC Legacy Now in Doubt?)

Perhaps ironically, what the federal government is pushing for in the national security proposal is as much about speeding up 5G deployments as it is about actually centralizing network security. (Editor's question: Also why do we think centralizing is a good and practical idea here?) The report talks repeatedly about fears that China will get ahead of the US in 5G deployments IF SOMETHING ISN'T DONE!

On that front, network operators wholeheartedly agree with federal officials that the industry should be able to steamroll over any local objections to get new broadband equipment installed faster. But doing so in a way that instead puts control in the hands of the national government? The idea is literally laughable.

If security officials in President Trump's administration believe they're going to be able to take over a large part of the private wireless sector, they've got another think coming. This isn't an Eisenhower-era interstate project where the people being run over are everyday folks with little to no power. The people on the other end of the government's bulldozer here have bulldozers of their own.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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Phil_Britt 1/29/2018 | 2:10:28 PM
A Trial Balloon? My first reaction when I first heard the report was much like your headline indicates. But the more I think about it, the more it might have been linked to judge public and corporate reaction. Could well be walked back quickly.
Duh! 1/29/2018 | 3:41:58 PM
Re: A Trial Balloon? My first guess was that this is the work of somebody outside government trying to float a hare-brained scheme that they could turn into a lucrative contract.

I'm now inclined to think it is a hoax. All of the FCC commissioners weighed in this morning to pan it. Most unity they've shown in years.
DanJones 1/29/2018 | 3:50:12 PM
Re: A Trial Balloon? Why would you want the gov building the network anyway? You want 5G in 2035? Hehehe.
rocket101 1/29/2018 | 5:17:16 PM
Re: A Trial Balloon? >>You want 5G in 2035?


No, we do not. But we do not want half-baked 5G in 2019 either.
rgrutza600 1/29/2018 | 7:08:00 PM
SAD reporting Sounds like a liberal reporter got their panties in a bunch over nothing.  Has there been a policy proposal put forth?  No.  Or are you now writing stories about the RUMORED THOUGHTS OF PEOPLE?  This article is tabloid level junk, or NY Times level bias.
R Clark 1/29/2018 | 7:34:45 PM
Leaked with intent Can't say I follow the logic of this idea at all. But it's just a thought bubble from a security official and presumably was leaked to have it shot down.
brooks7 1/29/2018 | 8:11:47 PM
Re: Leaked with intent  


The thinking goes that we have a huge fiber buildout to do if we want 1Gbps mobile service to be ubiquitous.  And with the current situation, we would actually need 4 such builds - one for each major mobile carrier.

I like the notion of a single fiber backhaul build.  We could use fiber multiplexing to add capacity.  The challenge that I still see is that would mean a single model of deployment.  At that point, there is no differentiation and thus no competitive advantage.  This means to be most efficient we would go with just 1 wireless carrier and nationalize that.

This bring us to the problem of what happens when we get to 6G.  Right now, we try to use commercial organizations to decide when a technology is ready to deploy.  The world's experience with central technology decision making has an awful track record (see the Soviet Union).

So, that sends me round and round in tradeoffs.  I don't think a national network is the best idea, but what we have today has a lot more challenges than past builds...if we are essentially blanketing the US with 4x small cell networks.


macemoneta 1/29/2018 | 9:38:45 PM
I know this is cynical of me but... When I heard this, all I could think is that it's a shakedown for additional lobbying cash from the telecom industry. "That's a mighty nice industry you've got there. It'd be a shame if something were to happen to it..."
Joe Stanganelli 1/29/2018 | 11:45:51 PM
Re: A Trial Balloon? @Dan: Lol indeed. As another Republican president so memorably put it, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
Joe Stanganelli 1/29/2018 | 11:50:46 PM
Re: A Trial Balloon? @Duh: Maybe not a hoax, but let's remember we're talking about a leaked memo about a proposal. Which is not even the first leaked memo about a proposal to leak out of the Trump White House recently.
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