The Trump administration denies the reports that it may seek to nationalize at least part of the 5G network in the U.S. in an effort to win some secret cyber war with China that may or may not exist. The report stemmed from a National Security Council memo and PowerPoint slides. It seems that the Trump administration can’t get its story straight, as some officials say the memo and slides are outdated, while another confirmed that they are looking at nationalizing some of the 5G network.
Even if Trump officials are considering moving forward with the plan, they would likely face strong resistance from other arms of the government.
Trump administration said to be planning for cyber war
Axios reported on Sunday that national security officials in the Trump administration are thinking about making a move that would be unprecedented: taking over part of the mobile network in the U.S. The news outlet said some “sensitive documents” it had seen suggest that the federal takeover could help guard against China. Axios said a “senior” official on the National Security Council produced both the memo and PowerPoint slides it had seen and that they were presented to senior officials at various U.S. agencies.
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The documents reviewed by Axios suggested that the U.S. must have a centralized 5G network spanning the country within the next three years. The news outlet also warned that if the plan were to move forward, a “fierce debate” will probably ensue throughout the Trump administration. Additionally, the mobile industry would probably raise quite an outcry over the next six to eight months about how such a centralized network would be funded and built.
Options for the centralized 5G network
The documents also offered up two potential options for getting the 5G network built. The first is having the federal government fund and build a single network. Of course, that would be unprecedented because it would be a massive diversion from long-running policies that have kept mobile infrastructure private.
The other plan involves having mobile carriers build their own competing 5G networks, although the document also indicated that the cost could be higher, and it might take longer. On the other hand, having carriers build their own networks would avoid much of the commercial disruption involved in the first option.
An unnamed source reportedly told Axios that the second option isn’t actually an option at all because what’s really needed for the U.S. to protect itself against China and “other bad actors” in the cyber war is a single centralized 5G network. The source reportedly added that the internal debate at the White House will likely be whether the federal government owns and builds the infrastructure or whether mobile carriers work together as part of a consortium to build it.
Combat with China in a cyber war
The PowerPoint slides reviewed by Axios suggest that the U.S. must be quick to build a superfast 5G network because China has already become dominant in both the manufacturing and operation of network infrastructure. Additionally, the slides name China as “the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain.”
The slides reportedly indicate that the best option is for the U.S. government to build the network itself and then rent access to mobile carriers. An unnamed source reportedly told the news outlet that the document is now outdated that that there’s a newer version that’s neutral regarding whether or not the federal government should construct and own the 5G network.
The reasoning behind building such a network as part of a sort of cyber war is to construct a secure network dedicated to Internet traffic for new, more sensitive technologies, such as self-driving vehicles and virtual reality. One of the slides reportedly describes the move as a digital version of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, which includes the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Does the U.S. really need a nationalized 5G network?
The concept does seem a little out of left field, given that mobile carriers have already been working on deploying their own 5G networks for some time. The first 5G spec was just approved last month, so the world’s mobile carriers are making some progress.
Multiple White House officials told Recode that the documents Axios was shown are outdated. They also reportedly said that a staffer had simply made this suggestion and that the policy of a centralized 5G network is not imminent and probably won’t ever be.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement today saying that he opposes any such centralized 5G network, and it’s his agency that controls the nation’s airwaves. He countered with a suggestion for the federal government to make more wireless spectrum available to commercial carriers to expand the 5G network.
Reuters apparently spoke to a different administration official than whoever Recode spoke to. Reuters’ source confirmed the report from Axios and said the option of a centralized 5G network was under debate “at a low level in the administration,” the news network said. The official also reportedly said that it would be about six to eight months before President Trump himself will consider the cyber war argument for a national 5G network.