Ajit Pai

On Sunday, a White House PowerPoint memo on implementing a nation-wide 5G network was leaked to Axios. By Monday morning, Ajit Pai and other members of the FCC were slamming the leaked proposal, with FCC commissioner Mike O’Reilly comparing the plan to a lead balloon “made out of a Ford Pinto.”

Pai, for his part, took the same line he’s used to promote his repeal of net neutrality regulations; that industry knows best. “The market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” he said in an official statement.

Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two democrat members of the FCC, acknowledged Monday that the government memo did address a real issue, but it didn’t prescribe the right remedy.

The memo argues that a comprehensive network is needed to safeguard the nation’s cybersecurity against China and other bad actors, whose technological capabilities — specifically in A.I. — may currently be out-performing the U.S. The memo argues that this network, likely built by the government over the next three years, would pave the way for a secure pathway for emerging technologies like VR and self-driving cars.

The White House PowerPoint presentation somewhat comically compares the U.S.’s current wireless capability to feudal-era architecture, according to Axios:

To illustrate the current state of U.S. wireless networks, the PowerPoint uses a picture of a medieval walled city, compared to a future represented by a photo of lower Manhattan.

But despite its attempt at progress, the memo has raised a number of concerns. One obvious issue is the role of government in infrastructural development. The Republican ideology would be to let private industry take care of innovation while fostering market competition. The White House’s consideration of a proposal like this is surprisingly against the grain. Moreover, while big telecom has already heavily invested in their own rollout plans for 5G network development, this move would likely disrupt their businesses.

The time frame of the plan itself is also being called infeasible. As for the security angle, it’s also unlikely that a government-initiated 5G network would solve this problem. Other 5G networks would still exist in the U.S., watering down any reality that everyone in the U.S. would be using one single network that’s guaranteed to be secure.

The memo also makes repeated reference to China’s A.I. capabilities, but this actually has little to do with 5G. China is indeed leading the charge on A.I. development, but innovation in this realm employs servers and doesn’t necessarily require 5G. Critics say that America’s ability to compete with China in A.I. wouldn’t be solved via a comprehensive network.

You can read the full leaked memo posted by Axios here.


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Photos via Independent Journal Review