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Trump Campaign Pushes Government Intervention On 5G

President Donald Trump’s reelection team is backing a controversial plan to give the government a role in managing America’s next-generation 5G wireless networks — bucking the free market consensus view of his own administration and sparking wireless industry fears of nationalization.

The plan — embraced by Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale and adviser Newt Gingrich — would involve the government taking 5G airwaves and designing a system to allow for sharing them on a wholesale basis with wireless providers. The idea is also being pushed by a politically connected wireless company backed by venture capitalist Peter Thiel that could stand to benefit.

It’s already getting pushback from industry, which dismisses the concept as untested and unworkable.

But the Trump campaign is now fully embracing the model in a bid to woo rural voters who have long lacked decent internet service because wireless companies don’t have a financial incentive to offer affordable broadband to all Americans, including those outside the biggest cities.

“A 5G wholesale market would drive down costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s 2020 campaign, told POLITICO. “This is in line with President Trump’s agenda to benefit all Americans, regardless of geography.”

Trump campaign advisers aren’t offering an explanation for why their position is so different from the one embraced by the Trump administration, and they say they have no financial motivations for their stance.

But the campaign’s position sets up a likely policy fight with key Trump administration figures who preach an industry-led 5G vision, including White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and members of the FCC.

The issue of government’s potential role in 5G — which promises super-fast internet speeds seen as critical to U.S. economic and technology development — has already proven to be an explosive one.

At the beginning of 2018, a leaked memo from the National Security Council, which envisioned the Trump administration building a nationwide 5G network to compete with China, faced immediate rejection from the wireless industry, every FCC commissioner and lawmakers of both parties, who were alarmed at the prospect of a heavy government hand in the sector.

The White House at the time never explicitly ruled out the nationalization concept, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying “there are a lot of things on the table.” But administration officials still scrambled to reassure the powerful wireless sector, holding a conference on 5G later in the year where Kudlow said”the White House is officially behind this free-enterprise, free-market approach.”

The Trump campaign is now touting a different flavor of potential government intervention into 5G, one championed by a wireless company known as Rivada Networks.

Rivada, which counts Trump ally Thiel among its investors, is lobbying for the administration to take wireless spectrum from the Defense Department and use a third-party operator — ideally Rivada — to make those airwaves available to users who need it on a rolling wholesale basis, much like in the electricity market.

This model would differ from the current system where wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon typically hold long-term spectrum leases secured at FCC auctions. Veteran GOP operative Karl Rove, a Rivada adviser, is helping to cultivate an informal network of advocates to push the concept.

Rivada’s influence operation has sparked speculation about its role in the Trump campaign’s thinking. But Parscale, one of the most vocal Trump surrogates backing the government-managed 5G plan, has no financial interest in Rivada or 5G, according to the campaign. Gingrich, who wrote an op-ed praising the “public-private” 5G model, also said he’s not getting paid by the company, but finds what it wants to do “fascinating.”―Politico

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