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GOP to Trump: Please don't nationalize 5G

A group of powerful GOP senators is urging President Trump to move away from the notion of a nationalized, wholesale 5G network for the US military.

"We write today to express our concerns about a Request For Information (RFI) released by the Department of Defense (DoD) that contradicts the successful free-market strategy you have embraced for 5G," wrote US Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. Other republican senators signing Thune's letter include Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. "Rather than rely on private industry and market forces to foster multiple, facilities-based 5G networks, the RFI seeks information on a government-managed process for 5G networks," the letter states.

Added the senators: "Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race."

Perhaps not surprisingly, others chimed in with similar comments. "We commend Senator Thune and his 18 Senate colleagues for their continued leadership and commitment to a free market approach to building the 5G economy," CTIA's Kelly Cole said in a statement. Cole is the SVP of government affairs for the nation's premier lobbying association for the US wireless industry. "As President Trump has said, a nationalized 5G network 'won't be as good, nearly as fast.' He is right, and thanks to this administration's support for auctioned spectrum and private sector solutions, we benefit from multiple nationwide 5G networks today."

The senators' letter is a response to a Pentagon proposal that would leverage Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology to allow the US military to share the 3100-3550MHz spectrum band with commercial users.

Although the Pentagon's RFP doesn't overtly state the DoD's desire for a nationalized network, it dovetails with calls for exactly that by the likes of Eric Schmidt (the former Google executive) and Karl Rove (the longtime GOP strategist).

Indeed, one of the 51 items on President Trump's re-election platform is to "win the race to 5G and establish a national high-speed wireless Internet network."

According to the Wall Street Journal, supporters of the Pentagon's proposal said it would be similar to FirstNet, a government program that allocated spectrum and billions of dollars for the creation of a nationwide wireless network for public-safety users. AT&T won the contract to construct the FirstNet network in 2017, and today the network covers 99% of the US population and counts 1.3 million connections.

In response to the DoD's RFP, the financial analysts with New Street Research outlined a number of reasons why they think a nationalized 5G network from the DoD would fail. For example, they argued it would run up against the Miscellaneous Receipts Act and the Anti-Deficiency Act, and that it would require approval by the FCC (an FCC representative said the agency has no comment on the matter).

However, the analysts noted that the DoD proposal could hint at further changes in Trump's approach toward spectrum policy and 5G in general. Specifically, they cited recent comments by the DoD's CIO, Fred Moorefield, as saying that the era of spectrum auctions is ending.

"It is curious on several levels," the analysts wrote of Moorefield's comments on spectrum auctions. "We interpret him as suggesting a new way: cutting the FCC out of the process and enabling commercial providers to obtain use of federal spectrum by cutting a leasing deal with the DoD or NTIA. That is what the RFI appears to contemplate, which would be a significant change in policy."

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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