Washington bureaucrats are handing China keys to 5G kingdom

There was an episode of “The Office” way back in 2010 called “China,” wherein the main character — loveable doofus Michael Scott — debated the office’s resident smart guy, Oscar, about the relative threat that China poses to the United States’ status as the world’s superpower.

“People use China as the boogeyman for all their problems,” Oscar scolds him. “In the 1980s, it was Japan.”


Sentiments such as this are infuriating. “Don’t worry about China; it’s OK if the United States becomes weaker and China grows stronger,” are the silken tones born of naivete (or genuine leftist malice toward America). Sure, we were a little concerned about Japan in the 1980s, but we were concerned the Japanese might make better cars than we do. Japan didn’t loom as a threat over all our military operations the way China does now, especially since Russia has become China’s sidekick.

China is unencumbered by the constraints of a free society that shackle American government: Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry about elections, opinion polls, a free press, or a rival political party undermining his power. In the United States, the Democratic Party wants to blow up our economy with its Green New Deal, while China wants to blow up our aircraft carriers.

Conflict between China and the United States seems inevitable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean warfare, if we can continue to outperform China economically. (Or, as one writer put it, “Win the trade war to deter a real war.”) And, of course, the key to economic superiority is technological superiority — which is why the United States needs to be at the forefront of the 5G revolution. President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE said so in a pair of tweets on Thursday.

5G promises technological improvements on an unfathomable scale. It uses wireless infrastructure 100 times faster than 4G, promises to eliminate almost any processing delays, kickstart the internet of things, and connect billions of machines at low cost without draining their batteries. “Technical standards for the next generation of wireless services aren’t even finalized, yet the U.S. and China are already locked in a crucial race to be the first country to deploy a so-called 5G network,” according to Wired Magazine.

But the Department of Commerce is obstructing this competitive advantage, while China races to deploy 5G technologies. Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossChina sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony Commerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report MORE has allowed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to slow-walk a critical element the 5G rollout needs: midband spectrum.

President Trump has done an amazing job kickstarting the economy by slashing unnecessary red tape. With government out of the way, the free market has shown how well it can flourish. Alas, NTIA has tied up the bandwidth needed for 5G, and Ross needs to borrow the president’s tape-slashing equipment.  

The question is, of course, if this has been President Trump’s modus operandi, and it’s been so successful, why would anyone within his administration interfere with this key piece of infrastructure?

The powerful GPS industrial complex ostensibly has been keeping spectrum hostage for decades and holding back 5G through cronyism. 5G could be deployed through 40 megahertz of prime, midband spectrum that the GPS lobby doesn’t want to let go of, according to The Wall Street Journal. This valuable spectrum, controlled by private interests, has been boondoggled in a bureaucratic standoff for almost a decade, because the GPS industry doesn’t want any potential interference. (Maybe they’re just worried that 5G competitors could do a better job.)

Furthermore, one top Commerce official adding to the problem is Earl Comstock, one of Ross’s deputies. He’s been at odds with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and a strong supporter of President Obama’s net neutrality rules. Pai is a 5G rollout ally, but he can’t act until the NTIA under the Department of Commerce signs off. Then the FCC can give its approval for use of this spectrum.

Conservatives support letting the free market, not government bureaucrats, lead and innovate. Commerce needs to get on board, give the FCC the tools it needs and unleash 5G on the American public. If we don’t lead, the Chinese will be happy to do it. For the United States to win in 5G, it must lead in everything from innovation to spectrum allocations, and we can’t win if our government leaders are on the wrong side of history.

Secretary Ross can help make this happen here, or he can let it happen in China. If Michael Scott on “The Office” could see this in 2010, surely Ross can see this in 2019.

Jared Whitley is principal at Whitley Political Media, LLC. He worked as a press assistant for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in 2006-2008, as an associate director for rapid response in the George W. Bush White House in 2008-2009, and as a government and media coordinator in the defense industry. Follow him on Twitter @whitleypedia.