The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has come out against the Trump administration’s desire to nationalize a secure 5G network.
Any 5G plan would require FCC approval, leaving the future of the Trump administration proposal in serious doubt.
A National Security Council official presented senior members of the Trump’s administration with information suggesting that the United States needs to centralize its 5G network by the end of President Donald Trump’s first term as a safeguard against Chinese cybersecurity and economic threats.
Axios first reported the proposal.
A PowerPoint presentation and memo obtained by Axios argue that a centralized 5G system would be easier to protect from cyberthreats. A White House official, however, said the memo reported by Axios is “dated” and “not representative of the administration’s thinking.” The official declined to provide further details.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders addressed the 5G network presentation during Monday’s press briefing.
“As we outlined in our national security strategy … we discussed the need for a secure network,” she said, adding that “a lot of things are on the table.”
“Right now we are at the very earliest stages of the conversation. There are absolutely no decisions made on what that would look like, what role anyone would play in it, simply the need for a secure network. And that is the only part of this conversation that we are up to right now,” she said.
Government control of 5G infrastructure would be unprecedented and highly controversial, as the industry has traditionally been privately controlled.
Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, opposed the move in a statement Monday, saying “the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”
He added, “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”
All four FCC commissioners also came out in disapproval of the plan on Monday.
AT&T and Verizon, two of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, have both announced plans to roll out 5G coverage in the US this year. AT&T told Axios that work to launch 5G service in the United States “is already well down the road.”
Fletcher Cook, a spokesman for AT&T, said in a statement that the company “can’t comment on something we haven’t seen.” The Justice Department has sued to block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner, which owns CNN, and a trial has been set for March.
Verizon declined to comment on the Trump administration’s potential move.
In the presentation, two options were suggested: have the American government pay for and build a network, or have wireless providers build their own 5G networks. In the first scenario, the government would rent access to carriers like AT&T and Verizon, Axios reported.
The memo called the nationalization of 5G “the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System.” At the time, the interstate highway project was considered one of the most ambitious public works projects in American history.
In a December speech outlining his National Security Strategy, Trump labeled China a “rival power” seeking to “challenge American influence, values and wealth.”
When asked about allegations of hacking by Chinese entities and the Axios report Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the Chinese government strictly prohibits and severely cracks down on all forms of cyberattacks.”
“We think the international community should strengthen dialogues and cooperation to face up to cyber threats and maintain cyber peace and security based on mutual respect and trust,” she said.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Rene Marsh, Dan Merica, and Joe Sutton contributed to this report