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article imageUS floats idea nationalizing high-speed networks, drawing rebukes

By AFP     Jan 29, 2018 in World

US officials have launched a debate on a proposal to nationalize the newest generation of high-speed wireless internet networks in the name of national security, provoking sharp criticism from across the political spectrum.

One official familiar with the proposal but not authorized to speak publicly told AFP the idea "has been discussed over the past couple of weeks" at the request of US national security officials.

The proposal was first reported by the news website Axios, citing a memo proposing government control of the newest and fastest part of the nation's mobile network -- the fifth generation, or 5G -- to guard against China's growing online capabilities.

Axios cited a memo by a senior official as contending that the US need to quickly deploy 5G because China is in a top position with the technology and "is the dominant malicious actor" online.

But the proposal -- which would run counter to the longstanding US policy of relying on private telecom networks -- drew immediate rebukes from the industry and even from US regulatory officials.

The official familiar with the proposal noted that "it's not hard to find people who think it's a dumb idea."

Industry leaders pointed out that the private sector is already in the process of building and deploying 5G systems, which will be important for a range of connected devices from appliances to self-driving cars.

The federal government stepping in would "slam the brakes" on momentum to deploy 5G, argued Jonathan Spalter, chief of USTelecom trade association.

"The best way to future-proof the nation's communications networks is to continue to encourage and incentivize America’s broadband companies... in partnership with government, to continue do what we do best: invest, innovate, and lead," Spalter said in a statement.

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of the wireless industry group CTIA, added that while 5G is important, "the government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the US wireless industry to win the race to 4G."

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, whose agency regulates the telecom sector, also voiced strong opposition.

"Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future," Pai, a Republican, said.

Pai's Democratic colleague on the FCC, Mignon Clyburn, agreed, saying a network built by the federal government "does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race."

Conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks also came out against the idea, arguing that the move would put the US on the same level as China in controlling online access.

FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon said, "We're not beating the Chinese if we sacrifice what makes our government so different from theirs."

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