Twenty questions for the Trump Team on nationalizing 5G wireless

In their Axios story “Trump team considers nationalizing 5G network,” Jonathan Swan, David McCabe, Ina Fried, and Kim Hart report that “Trump national security officials are considering an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation’s mobile network to guard against China, according to sensitive documents obtained by Axios.”

I had three reactions to the leaked Trump NSC materials.

  • Surely these are not actual policy documents they are using to make decisions.
  • The author is using China as a model to design a U.S. policy.
  • If the President says 5G or build a nationwide wireless network in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, his staff are setting him up for an embarrassing policy failure.

The leaked documents are of such low quality that they barely merit a response, but the policy ramifications would be so enormous and harmful I feel obliged to raise my concerns, framed as twenty questions for the author of these documents.

I encourage you to review the slide deck and memo and form your own judgment.

Public vs. Private

  1. You compare a government-built 5G wireless communications to both the creation of the National Highway System in the 1950s, and the Space Race in the 1960s. The government did those projects in part because no one else could. Why shouldn’t private firms build 5G? They seem willing and able to do so.
  2. Pointing to both the U.S. Interstate Highway System and the Chinese “Belt and Road” system as models, your primary option proposes a network model for 5G wireless: a single, universal, government-run, centrally-administered network. Why does this model make more sense for American 5G wireless than the multiple overlapping 3G and 4G private wireless networks, or the privately-owned wired U.S. internet infrastructure, or the private hub-and-spoke air carrier network, or the regional networks of State and local roads that connect to the interstate highway system? Why should the government (you) choose an optimal network structure rather than allow it to grow and evolve based on consumer-driven pricing signals?
  3. You say a government-built and -operated wireless network will “create millions of jobs.” Won’t it just shift jobs from the private sector to the government?

Financing, innovation, and improvement over time

  1. You say your “new paradigm … would require a single network that is virtually shared […]