September 18, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
To misquote Field of Dreams, if we build 5G, a bigger, better economy will come. In fact, conventional wisdom says the country that gets a leg up installing 5G – the super fast backbone of next-generation mobile service – will give itself a serious economic advantage over the rest of the world for decades to come. And that’s exactly why Russian trolls are desperately working to sow mistrust of the technology among Americans.
The current effort involves a disinformation campaign about the supposed effects of 5G on our health, suggesting that 5G signals cause everything from cancer to infertility and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. It includes an especially pernicious soupçon of fear about the dangers 5G poses to children’s brains. But the truth is, every last claim is scientifically unfounded, and in some cases, has actually been proven false.
One of the biggest purveyors of these outright lies is Russian network RT America, cited by U.S. intelligence as a big player in efforts to undermine our 2016 election. It’s also a known pawn of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Amid all the hubbub in the United States, Putin is quietly moving ahead with 5G installations in Russia. He’s said he wants “universal access” to it across the country. Putin announced in February that commercial 5G service will be up and running by next year, and will be launched in all cities with a population of more than 300,000 by 2024.
He’s keen because 5G means significantly faster data, reduced latency, higher system capacity and unlimited device connectivity to the internet of things. 5G networks will unlock vast new opportunities in artificial intelligence, automation, manufacturing, energy and transportation, all while making cities more livable and life generally more pleasant – particularly for those living in dense urban areas. It will spur untold efficiencies, improvements and investment. Most importantly, “the country that owns 5G will own many of these innovations and set the standards for the rest of the world,” according to the Defense Innovation Board, an independent committee that advises the U.S. secretary of defense. In its 5G report, the DIB added, “The leader of 5G stands to gain hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue over the next decade, with widespread job creation across the wireless technology sector.”
China believes so strongly in the future of 5G that it’s investing $150 billion in it over the next six years. Europe started thinking about 5G as far back as 2013, adopting a “5G Action Plan” in 2016, with a goal of launching by the end of next year. So it’s no surprise the Russians are suddenly inundating us with “the evils of 5G” hysteria. But the American public shouldn’t be swayed by false narratives. We shouldn’t be misled by a panic whipped up by trolls and bots. Russia is a bad actor with ill intent, and its attempt to tinker with our technological and economic advancement shouldn’t be tolerated.
No matter what they say, the world is in the middle of an extraordinarily competitive global race that will determine future prosperity, very possibly into the next century. And whichever country reaches the 5G finish line first wins.
Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a nonpartisan coalition of tech companies and nonprofits.
Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.