Trump says he opposes nationalizing U.S. 5G network

FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland
FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

April 12, 2019

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said Friday the United States should not nationalize its 5G network and said private companies should move quickly to deploy the faster next-generation network.

“In the United States our approach is private-sector driven and private-sector led. The government doesn’t have to spend lots of money,” Trump said. “Leading through the government, it won’t be nearly as good, nearly as fast.”

The White House mulled the idea of nationalizing the 5G network for more than a year. In March Politico reported that Trump’s reelection campaign supported a government role in managing the 5G networks even as White House officials including top economic adviser Larry Kudlow have said for months they oppose the idea.

Trump spoke alongside Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai who disclosed Friday the agency plans to hold its third 5G spectrum auction on Dec. 10, the latest effort to make more spectrum available that could transform significant sectors of the U.S. economy.

Pai said Trump’s comments opposing nationalization was an “important signal” to the private sector that is investing tens of billions of dollars in the 5G networks.

CTIA, an industry trade group, said Friday that Trump’s statement “puts an end – once and for all – to any misguided notions of nationalizing spectrum resources or government-mandated wholesale 5G markets.”

Pai is also proposing to invest $20.4 billion over 10 years to build out high-speed broadband networks in rural America.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund aims to provide funding through a reverse auction to service providers in areas without access to high-speed service and aims to connect up to four million rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks.

5G networks are expected to be at least 100 times faster than the current 4G networks, cut delays and allow for innovations in a number of fields.

Pai spoke on a call with reporters ahead of the White House event with Trump and rural residents who could benefit from faster networks to tout the administration’s efforts to boost 5G wireless networks and funding for rural broadband.

Since November, the FCC has auctioned 1,550 megahertz of spectrum to be used by commercial wireless providers for 5G connectivity. The third 5G spectrum auction will be the largest, with the FCC selling 3,400 megahertz in three different spectrum bands.

The FCC voted on Friday to seek comments on bidding procedures for the next auction. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the auction is a good step but the commission must also pivot “to mid-band” spectrum “or risk falling behind other countries.”

Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Corp, Sprint Corp and T Mobile US Inc are beginning to deploy 5G service in U.S. cities and are working to extend their networks as 5G-compatible phones slowly become available.

The Republican administration has also been warning other countries against adopting 5G systems from Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, citing security concerns.

For more than a year, the White House has been mulling an executive order that would direct the Commerce Department to block U.S. companies from buying equipment from foreign telecommunications makers that pose significant national security risks, Reuters reported in December.

The FCC since March 2018 has also been considering rules to bar the use of funds from a government program to purchase equipment or services from companies that pose a security threat to U.S. communications networks. Pai said that proposal is still pending.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)