Lewis Morris / Feb. 1, 2018

A Government 5G Network?

The federal government is mulling over a plan to get too involved in America’s technological infrastructure.

The federal government is mulling over a plan to get too involved in America’s technological infrastructure, and we could all pay a heavy price if it follows through. A recently published memo from the National Security Council suggests a plan in which the government would build and run a secure national 5G network that would supposedly protect the U.S. from Chinese cyberattacks.

However well-meaning the idea may be, the concept of the government getting involved in America’s tech development is fraught with problems. Not the least of which is the simple fact that the federal government could build a national 5G network within the two-year time span that is proposed.

5G is the next generation of wireless networks, and it will allow people and companies to share more data faster than any existing network. China is reportedly building a 5G network of its own right now, spurring concerns about whether the U.S. could be left behind in the so-called 5G race. There are also concerns about the Chinese hacking whatever new wireless network the U.S. develops.

Fears of foreign dominance over America’s data networks is not new, nor should it drive our government to take the reins in wireless development. Just as one example, the federal government took four years and untold millions of dollars to build the ObamaCare website, which was touted as the one-stop online shop for America’s health insurance, and it was loaded with errors and problems. Imagine what kind of chaos could be made by the government building and running an entire wireless network for the country.

If security is the major concern, then the government should be working with America’s tech companies, not telling them what to do. Innovation happens only when the private sector is allowed to explore and invent on its own terms. History has proven on a number of occasions that the government would only get in the way of that innovation and screw things up.

The government has yet to prove that it is capable of protecting America’s digital networks from cyberattacks by China, North Korea and Russia. This should be the main goal, but it cannot be achieved by what has been proposed by the NSC memo. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai suggests that a nationalized 5G network would do more harm than good. “What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure.” Pai said in a statement earlier this week.

The government 5G proposal may be little more than a group of NSC staffers thinking out loud. It’s hard to imagine that President Trump would want to go through with such a plan after everything he said during the State of the Union about American innovation and the strength of the private sector. But we cannot necessarily trust cooler heads to prevail.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a case that could have major ramifications for how citizens store their data online. In United States v. Microsoft, the government is seeking an answer to whether it has the power to access data from an American company that is stored on servers that exist in other countries — in this case, Ireland.

If the High Court decides that any server in the world is within reach of the long arm of the law simply because it is storing data from American companies or individuals, then these companies and people would be at the mercy of the government and its whims. The fact that this matter has to be considered at all suggests that the government cannot be trusted to handle the building and management of America’s 5G network. That should be left to the private sector, and the government should focus on doing its best to protect the network so that it can be prosperous.

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