White House getting pushback on possible government-owned 5G network
The Trump administration is getting pushback from industry groups, both sides of the aisle and even internally about the Pentagon’s moves toward a possible 5G network owned and operated by the government.
President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is reportedly leading a pressure campaign for the White House’s favored candidate, wireless company Rivada Networks, in its efforts to construct a 5G network, though Rivada says such a network should not be government-owned.
The Pentagon’s deadline for a request for information (RFI) on accelerating spectrum sharing and 5G deployment was Oct. 19, and Rivada, which retains GOP strategist Karl Rove as a lobbyist, responded the day before, a spokesperson told The Hill.
Senior administration officials are reportedly alarmed at Meadow’s efforts to get the Department of Defense to fast-track the process toward a request for proposal (RFP) on nationalized 5G.
A Pentagon spokesperson said there is no decision yet on an RFP.
“We hope the RFI provides great insight into the art of the possible. Once the RFI submissions are collected we will analyze the concepts and evaluate the potential solutions for feasibility. At this time it is too early to tell if an RFP will follow anytime in the future,” Russell Goemaere told The Hill.
Sources said the wireless industry has been requesting a meeting with Meadows for weeks to discuss 5G and the controversy over the Pentagon RFI. There is suspicion in the industry that an RFP could be released within a matter of days or weeks.
With Election Day approaching, a source familiar said that those who support a nationalized 5G network are also prepared to engage with Democrats to find backing.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are unsettled by the Pentagon’s recent engagement with the wireless telecommunications industry and generally worried the administration would work to nationalize 5G and lease the federal spectrum for commercial purposes.
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the Pentagon’s RFI on the creation of a government-owned-and-operated 5G network a “very bad idea that raises serious legal concerns” in a statement last week.
“It is crucial that this RFI not cause costly delays we can ill afford in bringing this valuable spectrum to market,” she said in a statement.
Two leading Democrats also launched an inquiry earlier this month into Defense Department’s potential steps toward a national 5G network, seeking details about the RFI.
In letters to the administration, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the top Democrat on the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, called out Rivada by name and said they have also heard reports that the White House informed the Pentagon to “proceed immediately” to an RFP.
And Republicans have concerns, too. On Oct. 1, a group of 19 GOP senators wrote to Trump expressing concerns about the RFI, saying they feel it contradicts a free-market strategy.
“Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race,” read the letter, which was led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
It did not mention Rivada, Rove or the other political operatives with close ties to Trump.
Rivada has denied it is pursuing an RFP that would favor it moving forward.
A spokesperson for Rivada said the company opposes nationalizing anything, including 5G networks, and does not support building a government-owned or government-operated 5G network.
“The superior alternative is a network built to commercial scale and with private capital, while being shared with commercial users who are subject to pre-emption by DOD,” Rivada said in its RFI, according to an excerpt released by the company.
Rivada is financially backed by Trump ally Peter Thiel, but the company says Thiel’s investment vehicle is a very small passive shareholder and he has no day-to-day involvement.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has also reportedly played a role with the company’s efforts towards nationalizing 5G, although he has said in the past he has no financial stake in it.
CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry, the Internet and Television Association, USTelecom—The Broadband Association and other industry associations, wrote to Trump on Oct. 9, urging him to oppose any effort to nationalize a 5G network.
“Such an action would be at odds with more than a century of private sector led innovation and investment in communications networks, have a chilling effect on the entire broadband sector, and jeopardize American leadership in the global digital economy,” they wrote.
The traditionally Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce submitted comments to the Pentagon in response to their RFI on Oct. 19, calling for the administration to refrain from developing a network that competes against the private sector.
“Nationalizing the 5G the network is something that happens in countries like Russia, and it is a disaster. All evidence from the past thirty years shows that the private sector, not government, is best positioned to develop the next generation wireless network. For the sake of American innovation and the economy, we urge the Defense Department to drop this idea,” Jordan Crenshaw, executive director of the Chamber’s Technology Engagement Center, said in a statement.
Conservative groups including Americans for Tax Reform and Heritage Action for America thanked Thune in a letter earlier this month for opposing a nationalized 5G. The groups said they are also concerned with the Defense Department’s RFI and “how quickly it is proceeding.”
“Taxpayers should not foot the bill for something that the private sector is already committed to doing through a free market approach,” they wrote.