On Sunday night, Axios reported that President Trump’s National Security Council had, somewhat surprisingly, put together a preliminary plan to nationalize the nation’s 5G wireless infrastructure, mostly as a response to China’s dominant role in the realm of artificial intelligence and other technologies.
On Monday morning, that audacious idea quickly collided with reality.
Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai announced his strong opposition to the plan. In a statement, he said, “The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades — including American leadership in 4G — is that the market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”
Another FCC chairman, Michael O’Rielly, was harsher: “I’ve seen lead balloons tried in D.C. before, but this is like a balloon made out of a Ford Pinto.”
And Meredith Attwell Baker, the CEO of trade group CTIA, said, “The government should pursue the free-market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.”
None of the major wireless carriers, who are all at work on their own 5G networks, indicated their approval.
The Trump administration’s plan mixed two of its signature traits, which don’t necessarily gel with one another: paranoia about China’s rise, and occasional, Steve Bannon-esque enthusiasm for ambitious infrastructure projects. (The proposal described the proposed 5G network as “the 21st-century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System.”)
Countering Chinese nationalism with a policy that would be at home in, well, China is a curious move from an administration that has championed the role of private industry in just about every other arena — from the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality to its forthcoming infrastructure plan, which is likely to involve huge windfalls for corporations at the expense of the public good.
Ideological pivoting aside, the administration may want to consult with key decision-makers in relevant industries before it tries to shoot the moon next time around.