Opinion

The Private Sector – Not Government – Should Lead on 5G Development

By Karen Kerrigan
October 22, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

For America’s entrepreneurs, next-generation networks like 5G will generate new tools and opportunities to compete and scale their businesses in innovative ways. Vastly higher internet speeds and seamless communication will completely revolutionize the business-to-customer experience. In the COVID-19 economy, these tools and resources are needed by small businesses more than ever — to operate safely, remotely and competitively – indeed, to survive.

The race to build a secure, nationwide 5G network in the United States is being achieved through a path that government and industry have charted together. This successful model has unleashed private-sector investment and innovation. U.S. companies are competing to meet demands and to innovate in an open and free market to develop fast, resilient and secure networks, products and services.  

This, however, could change. 

Unfortunately, a small minority of voices are proposing that the United States “nationalize” 5G – amounting to a complete reversal of the progress and investment our communications networks have delivered to date. Reversing course and adopting a government-owned and managed 5G network is wasteful, unnecessary and inefficient.

The entrepreneurs and small-business owners who make up the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council understand what’s at stake. Nationalizing 5G development cannot go forward, as it would create an unresponsive bureaucracy, red tape, potentially foster cronyism and decelerate 5G deployment and innovation. 

Nationalizing 5G would not only undercut the open-market principles that have been critical to the development of preceding high-speed internet networks like 4G — it would undermine confidence in the entire internet ecosystem. The exponential growth and evolution of the internet and communications sectors are a direct result of light-touch regulations and pro-investment, pro-market policies that have enjoyed wide bipartisan support over last three decades. In fact, such longstanding policy paved the way for nearly $2 trillion in private sector investment during this period. 

Today, several U.S. wireless providers have already launched some form of 5G service. Nearly half of mobile users in North America will be on 5G by 2023. Furthermore, faster and more capable broadband services that consumers want now cost 20.2 percent less compared to 5 years ago. 

It is precisely because of free-market competition and know-how that we are making solid progress to expedite the transition to 5G networks. Consumers want and deserve greater choice across all internet and communications services; a single, national 5G network would fail to deliver this most basic benefit that is inherent to a competitive market.

Without a fair playing field and open competition there is no guarantee that investment capital will be deployed to help build a government-managed 5G network. With decades of experience in successfully deploying capital to build complex networks, it is far more efficient and practical to continue allowing our nation’s carriers and private sector investors to enhance existing and future networks.

Putting the U.S. government in charge of designing, building and maintaining a 5G network would surely create an unnecessary burden to taxpayers. On a much smaller scale, the history of government-owned networks in the United States is checkered at best, with failures in places like Virginia, Vermont and Florida. The coronavirus has already introduced uncertainty into the economy, making it hard to justify why the government should get waylaid into building 5G networks while the private sector is already moving forward efficiently and successfully on its own.

Moreover, having one national 5G network will be far less secure than having multiple ones. As Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and his colleagues outlined in a letter to the Trump administration, under such a system “bad actors” would need only penetrate one network instead of several, giving them a better shot at disrupting our entire nation’s wireless infrastructure. Nationalizing 5G development does not enhance national security. In fact, it threatens it.

Currently, private wireless companies are working with a supportive and forward-thinking Federal Communications Commission to develop strong and secure 5G networks for consumers and businesses alike. Under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC has made record progress in easing regulatory burden to streamline network investment and deployment and freeing up more spectrum for purchasing. Chairman Pai has been instrumental in helping more small businesses gain access to high-speed internet services, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Setting aside spectrum for the U.S. government to develop a national 5G network would waste precious time and resources. Policies must build upon the FCC’s efforts, not undermine them.  

The Trump administration must not reverse course on the currently successful path to develop and deploy multiple 5G networks for America’s small businesses and consumers. The government may have experience doing some things effectively, but developing responsive and secure broadband networks is not one of them.

This is not the time to play with untested models, which could set domestic 5G development back years. Policymakers and elected officials must reject efforts to nationalize the 5G network and continue to allow the private sector to push the boundaries of innovation by developing the strongest, most secure 5G networks in the world.

 

Karen Kerrigan is the president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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