The chaotic incompetence of the Trump administration sailed into clear view again today after the president’s reelection campaign blindsided White House staff with a policy statement on America’s development of next-generation 5G wireless services that is diametrically opposed to the current official position from the Oval Office, according to a report on Axios.
In a surprising break with the typical long-standing Republican advocacy of a free-for-all market-based competitive process in rolling out the next level of mobile technology, the Trump campaign has called for a government controlled 5G infrastructure that would then be leased back to wireless providers on a wholesale basis.
The nationalization of mobile infrastructure would be a radical departure from the individual corporate control of previous mobile networks that the nation has lived with since the inception of wireless communications systems. The proposed initiative reportedly has the backing of Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and his advisor Newt Gingrich.
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With China fiercely competing with the U.S. to develop the technology that could become the worldwide standard for 5G networks, there is a strategic defense component to the idea of a secure government-owned mobile backbone underpinning America’s upcoming 5G infrastructure.
The redundancy of having multiple privately-owned mobile networks currently in operation means that consumers presumably have more choice in picking a wireless service provider and that the subsequent competition results in lower overall prices than a monopoly would offer. However, the cost of building separate and, in some cases, incompatible networks means that overall prices are higher to cover the build-out costs of the redundant networks.
It also means that customers in low-population density rural areas are unlikely to get mobile broadband service quickly since the existing mobile network providers have little incentive to build out infrastructure in areas where the rate of return on their investment is unlikely to earn them much in the way of a profit.
It is this last issue that Trump’s campaign spokesperson pointed to as the motivation for the otherwise previously unthinkable position from a business-friendly, privatization-mad Republican candidate.
“A 5G wholesale market would drive down costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s 2020 campaign, told Politico. “This is in line with President Trump’s agenda to benefit all Americans, regardless of geography.”
According to Axios, however, the Trump campaign’s announcement of its 5G policy position took administration officials by surprise.
“Lots of policy folks were caught off guard,” a senior Trump administration official told Axios. “And the industry thought it [the plan Parscale just endorsed] was dead.” A different administration official in the tech policy sector said, “Yes, we were surprised.”
The switch in Trump’s 5G policy declaration not only caught White House officials by surprise, but it also raised major hackles at existing telecommunications networks, at Trump’s own Federal Communications Commission, and among legislators in both parties in Congress.
CTIA, the trade association representing the country’s existing wireless carriers, has already gone on record as opposing the nationalization of the yet to be built 5G infrastructure.
“Instead of trying to ‘out-China, China’, as some proponents of a nationalized ‘wholesale’ network monopoly suggested, we reaffirmed our faith in that most American of principles — competition in a free and open market,” the industry group wrote in a blog post last month, according to Politico.
With powerful interests on both side of the debate over the direction that our nation’s wireless future will take, it remains to be seen whether Trump’s Republican cohorts will switch gears as effortlessly as his campaign has to favor the socialist model of a nationalized 5G wireless network.
The plan is, however, a good thing to hold in your back pocket the next time a right-wing troll starts lecturing you on the evils of socialism as Trump’s plan for a nationalized 5G infrastructure is the very essence of socialism in action. Expect the heads of Republicans and Fox News hosts to start exploding any minute now.
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Original reporting by Jonathan Swan at Axios and by John Hendel and Margaret Harding McGill at Politico.