President Donald Trump put to rest Friday any hints that the federal government might privatize 5G networks. In a speech at the White House, Trump said, “We don’t want to do that because it won’t be as good or as fast” as what private investment can accomplish.
When members of the administration floated that as a possibility earlier this year, several FCC Commissioners, including Chairman Ajit Pai, and industry, opposed it.
With members of the National Association of Tower Erectors standing behind him wearing their harnesses, hardhats and other safety gear, Trump said 5G will be “more secure and resilient” than 4G and will “create astonishing opportunities for our people.”
Trump said: “The FCC is taking very bold action,” to free up more spectrum for 5G and reduce regulatory barriers to wireless infrastructure deployment. FCC action to streamline local permitting means, “They must now approve physical infrastructure within 90 days,” as opposed to the three or four years it sometimes takes, the President said. “And there is now a cap on unreasonable fees” local governments sometimes charge to approve small cells in a public right-of-way.
The U.S. is focused on rural communities that don’t have broadband. “The rural areas are where we want to go first,” said Trump. “We’re working with federal agencies to get [5G] deployed faster and at a much lower cost. We’re making two announcements. No matter where you are, you will have access to 5G,” he declared.
Pai was at the event, and announced two actions related to spur America’s 5G deployment. He said the Commission is in the midst of its second 5G spectrum auction, which has garnered almost $2 billion in bids so far. The agency intends to start its third 5G wireless spectrum auction this December, said Pai.
Pai also announced a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. “This money will extend high-speed broadband to up to four million homes and small businesses in rural America,” said Pai. In a call with reporters earlier in the day, the Chairman said money is being re-purposed from the Connect America Fund, which is slated to end in 2020.
Before the White House event ended, Trump spoke with some of the tower workers in the room. NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller, thanked the President and Chairman Pai “on behalf of NATE, our 900 members companies who build, deploy and maintain wireless infrastructure of this nation. Y’all fixin’ to put us to work!”
“This was an incredible opportunity for the National Association of Tower Erectors to stand up with the FCC Chairman and the President of the United States to discuss the deployment of 5G,” Miller told Inside Towers in an interview. “There is a lot of work that is going to have to be done. This is a great move for entire wireless ecosystem.”
Towards the end of the event, Trump asked how high tower workers climb, noting someone had told him “200 feet.” He was told climbers go “up to 1,000 feet.” The president said he “couldn’t do that.”
Industry association welcomed the announcements. CTIA resident/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said the President’s remarks, “puts an end—once and for all—to any misguided notions of nationalizing spectrum resources or government-mandated wholesale 5G markets. The White House’s continued commitment to the free-market principles that have made the U.S. the global leader in wireless recognizes this industry’s remarkable track record of investing in our nation’s connectivity infrastructure—$226 billion in the last nine years alone.”
Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein, too, applauded the clarity for a private-sector, market-driven approach to 5G. “Over the past three decades and the previous four iterations of wireless generations, this approach has proven the most effective way to drive investment in wireless networks, and 5G is no exception,” said Adelstein.
He called the coming auction of 3,400 MHz of millimeter-wave spectrum a “huge step” to making enough spectrum available to meet the data and bandwidth demands of 5G. He noted that under Chairman Pai, the FCC, “has shown incredible foresight in preparing for 5G by already auctioning nearly 5 GHz of spectrum for 5G use and by reducing several unnecessary barriers to 5G infrastructure deployment.”
Further, Adelstein said the Administration is also taking important steps in workforce development to help train a 5G workforce with the right skills. Comments? Email Us.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
April 15, 2019