NEW YORK, N.Y. – Trump administration officials, increasingly intent on preventing Chinese global technological domination, keep floating the idea that the U.S. government should take a more direct hand in running next-generation 5G wireless networks.
But the notion isn't terribly popular — not even within the administration.
On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr said the U.S. government should consider taking a “ controlling stake ” in the European companies Nokia and Ericsson to thwart the global ambitions of China-based Huawei, which holds a leading share of the market for 5G wireless equipment. The federal government could do so directly or via a consortium of U.S. companies and private investors, Barr said.
The backlash didn't take long. In an interview on CNBC Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said "the best way forward" on 5G relies on private enterprise, not government takeovers. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation's airwaves, already plans to auction off additional radio spectrum for 5G.
"That's the plan the president has endorsed," Pence said. Later on Friday, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow also argued against the idea, telling reporters at the White House that “the U.S. government is not in the business of buying companies, whether they're domestic or foreign.”
Trump has not tweeted about the proposal.
Depending on how you count it, Barr's speech is the second or third time people in Trump's administration or 2020 campaign have suggested direct federal involvement in 5G networks, which boast faster speeds and promise a variety of new applications. Barr suggested in his speech that 5G speeds will turn wireless networks into “the central nervous system of the next generation of internet, called the ‘Industrial Internet,’” with potentially dramatic economic consequences.
In 2018, leaked National Security Council documents obtained by Axios proposed a U.S. government-built 5G network. That plan went nowhere.