Over the weekend Axios reported that the White House was considering a plan to have the federal government take over the development of 5G wireless technology and create a government-owned national network, preempting or even nationalizing the already-developing investments of private telecom firms. This is troubling, but fortunately so far Federal Communications Commission members, such as chairman Ajit Pai and commissioner Brendan Carr, have rejected the idea out of hand, rightly proclaiming the superiority of private sector creation and infrastructure ownership.
What is especially worrisome about the proposal, however, is the underlying reality that past networks such as electricity, water utilities, and even telecommunications itself did succumb to decades-long utility style regulation, and to claims that these ordinary, competitive industries were “natural monopolies.” That approach kept, and still keeps, these industries sub-competitive, and now it is being proposed by some misguided souls for 5G. This is not something to take lightly, and what we need now are for many more in Congress and others in positions of leadership to make clear that such designs on the nation’s future wireless infrastructure will not be tolerated. Fortunately Congress, not the administration, makes law, after all.
The problem today is that infrastructure, particularly new technologies that will employ 5G, remains vulnerable to political predation, even as the very technologies themselves transcend the “market failure” arguments that allegedly justified previous power grabs. Perversely and incredibly, the tech/frontier sectors seem increasingly vulnerable to the modern rationalizations for treatment as public utilities or “essential facilities,” and policymakers have not recognized the severity of this threat. Indeed, some producers, or contractors, sadly, would go along with regulation in order to get protection from competition, and thus assure their own permanence.
Consumers will suffer from this nationalized 5G idea, and it needs to be stamped out immediately. Not only should 5G itself not be nationalized, but all infrastructure sectors need to have regulations that constrain them removed. It isn’t just 5G networks that need to grow, become more consumer friendly, and become cheaper; all of America’s great infrastructure systems need to grow and bolster one another. That is also the best source of security, which is purportedly the main justification for a government-run 5G network.
More analysis on tech infrastructure and policy in the articles below:
- The Consumer Electronics Show and Public Policy: Can There Be Separation of Tech and State? (Forbes, 1/17/18)
- Who Will Own The Infrastructure In The Smart City? (Forbes, 1/11/18)
- The Internet of Things Wants to Know Where Its 5G Is (Forbes, 11/2/17)