A Nationalized 5G Network Will Poison National Security, Not Provide the Antidote

There is speculation about the next generation of wireless networks in the United States. However, one thing is clear: The network will be revolutionary. 5G will be an interconnected network, touching everything from our commutes to work, how we brush our teeth, the way we monitor our health data, and the processing and storage of terabits of sensitive personal information. Naturally, our nation’s 5G network will be a high priority target for cyberterrorists. That is why I was surprised to see my colleagues in the defense industry recommend that the federal government take control of the build-out of 5G and create a nationalized, central network.

Having a nationalized network narrows the attack angle of potential aggressors. A nationalized network is a single point of compromise of the entire network. This presents serious national security risks that are directly contrary to the goal of the initial proposal. Our nation needs to lead in 5G and create a robust and secure network, but to do so, we are better served by the free market, not the government. Today, wireless networks in the United States are diversified across multiple carriers and are powered by the speed of commerce. Not only does this provide greater security, it allows companies to innovate at a rapid pace without the burden of government bureaucracy. Of course, we should expect government regulations; 5G can be inspired by but must not be burdened by government.

Take for example the Marine Corps. When the Marines need new equipment, like the CH-53K King Stallion helicopter, they don’t ask the Department of Defense to manufacture one for them. The Marine Corps purchases the helicopters from the experts at Sikorsky who have been making aircraft since the 1920s. The same is true of our internet networks. By 2022 the United States is on track to be one of the leading three countries with a deployed 5G network, next to Japan and Sweden.

The private sector in the United States is already billions of dollars and several years ahead of any would-be government-run 5G network. Why would we start over? Especially after some U.S. companies have started to deploy 5G networks. It doesn’t make sense.

Furthermore, the federal government has a poor track record when it comes to network management. Federal networks are regularly compromised. For example, in 2017, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that foreign hackers had gained access to an agency database that contained financial information of publicly traded companies that had not yet been made available to the public. The hackers used this information to illegally profit on the stock market.

Not surprisingly, our Congress is at risk. In 2018, Sen. Ron Wyden revealed that he had been contacted by a private tech company that informed him that “a number of senators and Senate staff members’” email accounts were the targets of foreign hackers. This is warfare by other means and is a persistent threat. The American citizen is an equal target of hackers and their efforts at exploitation. There are over 320 million people in the U.S. We cannot allow their sensitive personal information to be entangled in government red tape and be threatened by mismanagement.

Network management goes well beyond the handling of sensitive personal information. Today, wireless networks are responsible for managing key components of our nation’s infrastructure from traffic lights to energy production. Private industry has continually invested in enhancing cybersecurity, and as attacks on our energy grid from foreign powers like North Korea increase, we cannot simply hand the keys over to the feds. Especially since the federal government “needs to improve lax federal cybersecurity in general.” There are clearly too many challenges here. For the sake of our national security, the government should stay in its lane, drop any notion that their involvement should be more intimate than a limited regulatory role, and leave the future of our communications networks to those in industry who are achieving success already.

James “Spider” Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and president of the Marks Collaborative.

Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.

Morning Consult