America's Sputnik moment on 5G

America's Sputnik moment on 5G
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The United States faces a challenge comparable to the one we faced when the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, Sputnik. Confronted with potential foreign technological primacy, the American people rose to the occasion and won the space race as well as the Cold War.

Now China’s advances in 5G, perhaps the world’s most important emerging technology, are again threatening U.S. global technological leadership. The outcome of the worldwide contest for 5G power between China and the United States has accurately been called pivotal for deciding whether we will see “America's Darkest Hour or Finest Hour.”

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, who has built an admirable record defending consumers and advancing U.S. telecommunications leadership, understands the importance of operationalizing 5G in the United States. The technology will transfer cellphone and internet data at lightning speeds — at least ten times faster than many Americans presently receive. Such a transformation will allow firefighters to see through smoke, full-length movies to download in seconds and soldiers to defend against multiple threats.

Recognizing that data “will shape U.S. economic prosperity and our future strategic position in the world,” the U.S. National Security Strategy appropriately mandates the United States to “improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G internet capability nationwide.” Members of Congress from both parties, as well as state and local leaders, also strongly support regaining U.S. leadership in the critical 5G technology field to make Americans safer and more prosperous.

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Although 5G has matured, presently only a few Americans can enjoy 5G due to delays in building the necessary infrastructure in the United States and other Western countries. In contrast, China’s 5G rollout has been a top priority for Beijing. Chinese national security managers have long seen data as a strategic resource that they must bring under their control.

Thanks to predatory pricing, covert state subsidies and other unfair competition, the Chinese government has carved out 5G leadership for its telecommunications firms within China and overseas. The misperception that Chinese firms offer cheaper products without major security costs recently led even close U.S. ally Great Britain to allow Chinese firms to help build their 5G networks through an announcement last week. Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Negotiators signal relief bill stuck, not dead MORE (R-Ark.) lamented that, “I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing.” 

Astute experts warn that if the Chinese control 5G, they could control our health care data, our personal financial records and our national security. National law requires that every Chinese company obey the Chinese Communist Party and, as directed, pilfer data from domestic and foreign networks.

At home, Chinese analysts employ data to control the movement and thoughts of Chinese citizens. Elsewhere, they exploit data to strengthen their artificial intelligence and foreign influence operations. These could include trying to shape what U.S. sports leaders can say and how Americans might vote in upcoming elections.

This week, Pai will reportedly announce the FCC’s plans to move forward with a C-Band auction, which will re-align the radio frequencies to power Wi-Fi and 5G infrastructure. Experts widely consider C-band to possess “Goldilocks frequencies” that can transmit data of any size virtually any distance — precisely what Americans need to deliver powerful 5G.

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Speed is of the essence here. To meet this year’s deadline for completing the auction, the FCC must overcome those vested interests that want to delay 5G to limit competition with their products and services. Rather than providing market rates to existing users on the C-Band from the auction payments, they want the government to provide only small relocation costs to move them into other bands at a fraction of the spectrum’s value. This anti-innovation, anti-private property rights ploy will understandably generate a cascade of litigation by the satellite companies currently operating on the C-band that could delay 5G implementation for years.

Americans can win this race if we act quickly to unleash U.S. innovators to regain 5G leadership and place the national interest first. The fate of the new Sputnik movement hangs in the balance.                                                                                            

Richard Weitz is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute.