Issue in Focus
Feb 02 2018
5G, or 5th Generation, is the next step in wireless spectrum. It will likely be faster, more efficient, and could lead to advancements that allow for self-driving cars, drones, and virtual reality.
And the government is thinking of nationalizing it.
This week, Axios gained access to a government memo and PowerPoint probing the idea that the federal government should look into financing, building, and running a national 5G network in the next 3 years, all in the name of national security. It argues that outside agents will want to hack the network, giving them access to self-driving cars, economic information, and other technologies. Without this network being run and protected by the government, we are told we at the risk of falling prey to China and other countries who have outstripped us technologically and who could take advantage of our subpar cybersecurity.
While this threat is real, a government-run network is not the right answer.
Only markets can provide the competition necessary to build a resilient 5G network with effective security. A company cannot survive without customers, and customers will not use a network where their information is being hacked. For private companies, the imperative for security goes beyond national security, it goes to their bottom line.
On the other hand, the federal government has shown itself to be vulnerable to these kinds of security breaches.
“The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades—including American leadership in 4G—is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said this week. “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.”
While the administration has walked the memo back by saying it was written by low-level national security employees, its existence still highlights how national security has become a widely-used justification for growing federal power. It isn’t new, and it’s often well-intentioned. But in this instance as well as many before it, national security is best served by leaving the private sector to itself.