5G is critical in future stimulus bills

5G is critical in future stimulus bills
© Hill Illustration

In the history of the United States, our great leaders had understood that even in times of crisis, investments for our infrastructure are necessary to continue moving forward. At the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made sure work on the transcontinental railroad went forth. At the start of the Cold War, Dwight Eisenhower believed the interstate highway system would be vital to both national defense and economic prosperity.

Now there is an opportunity to invest in our 5G wireless infrastructure to ensure that the United States continues to lead in digital innovation and that all Americans are connected. Amid the pandemic, Americans have shifted how they work, learn, play, and worship, leveraging decades of digital innovation for remote jobs, online classes, modern gaming, and video services. This technology is made possible by infrastructure and networks that allow innovators to build on a connected society.

Our free market principles have allowed for networks that are robust and flexible. Unlike other countries, particularly in Europe, the United States has not had to resort to throttling bandwidth to keep traffic moving. But not all Americans have the access they need, since rural and low income communities still face technology and connectivity challenges.


After decades of innovation, we are at the cusp of the next generation of connectivity with 5G networks and the next wave of digital innovation. 4G networks gave us new smartphones, greater access to connectivity, and a platform for innovators to develop a plethora of apps and programs which have become part of our everyday lives. 5G will be a similar jump forward, not only for faster smartphones or quicker gaming but for a revolutionary reshaping of our economy by providing connectivity with the commercial, agricultural, transportation, manufacturing, and other sectors.

The speed and broad availability of 5G network connectivity will unlock a new digital future, and it is vital that our leadership in this field continues. As it also becomes more clear that the United States will not prosper as a whole with digital haves and digital have nots, 5G is a key opportunity to improve connectivity for the social and economic landscape.

China is the challenger in this race. The goal is to ensure the first mover advantage for unlocking 5G capabilities and building the standards and architectures that will shape networks and their usage. That first mover advantage is seen in our great technology companies that rode the first wave of digital innovation to become global leaders by leveraging those principles of our initiative and competitive market. The same principles need to be applied to 5G. From business data to personal data, we must not be beholden to foreign adversaries for our digital security.

As Congress considers how to support the economy, it has to remember how critical infrastructure and communications systems are investments that unlock further potential in innovation and prosperity. 5G can take us to the next level, and policies to speed its rollout should be included with any stimulus or infrastructure plans. While our Chinese competitors push forward their own technology champions, new business and technology models have the opportunity to provide competition and dynamism that will break through the old model used by firms such as Huawei.

Instead of a solution that leaves numerous wireless providers beholden to the software, engineers and security risks of any one firm, the government and the private sector must embrace open standards and architectures to create a competition. This is similar to how competition among computer makers, technology companies, and internet vendors powered the initial waves of digital innovation. Policies must support pathways to innovation and protection of intellectual property to rightly reward such investments by entrepreneurs. This will ensure that the digital market will continue to provide dynamic innovation and great economic opportunity.

History shows there are times for the government to guide the market, yet we should not pick winners or stifle competition. The United States has an opportunity to continue its leadership on 5G. It is important for policies to build on the advantages and successes which brought us here. Innovation and competition are critical to the 5G future and to ensure that Americans will benefit from a revolution in technology and connectivity.

Glenn Nye is the chief executive officer and Dan Mahaffee is senior vice president with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.