OPINION: For The Best 5G, Get Regulation Out Of The Way

Billy Easley II Americans for Prosperity
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Wireless connectivity has been a spectacular success in the United States. Thanks to 4G and 4G LTE, more Americans can access faster internet connections than ever before.

Total data usage grew exponentially (from 1.7 billion megabytes to 13.7 trillion MBs) between 2006 and 2016, while the cost fell by 99.7 percent. This has been a boon to the American economy. Since these new standards came out, American companies earned $125.5 billion that could have gone elsewhere, while the total number of wireless-related jobs in the U.S. increased by 84 percent.

Throughout this time, the United States became the undisputed leader in 4G wireless. Although America has less than 5 percent of global wireless subscribers, as recently as five years ago it had 50 percent of all 4G subscribers.

How did this happen? It wasn’t because the government took control of wireless networks (because they didn’t). It was because American companies had the freedom to compete and pursue technological innovation. And this innovation was not limited to wireless. Cable and satellite providers have similarly made substantial investments in their networks boosting connectivity and competition.

And yet, with the impending rollout of the next generation of wireless technology, 5G, a government takeover is suddenly what some people are proposing.

As groundbreaking as 4G and 4G LTE were, 5G promises to be the next exponential leap in network technology. It could be a thousand times faster than 4G and could connect everything from advanced telemedicine services to artificial intelligence to household appliances. A 5G network represents the future of technology as more and more physical devices become internet-enabled.

Just as with past generations, Americans stand to benefit massively from a 5G network. One study estimated that the new network could create 3 million new jobs and boost U.S. gross domestic product by half a trillion dollars.

The People’s Republic of China, however, is making a bid for 5G dominance as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Beijing’s top-down, command-and-control approach to 5G has led some in the United States to advocate that the United States head down the same route. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proposed that the U.S. government choose one company to have full control of the 5G network. One National Security Council staffer even authored a memo arguing for nationalizing the entire network.

These proposals ignore the lessons we’ve learned: Technology thrives best without government’s heavy hand. When it came to 4G in the United States, competition bred innovation, leading to massive gains for the economy and for Americans across the country — all without government control or nationalization.

Overall, the Trump administration has pursued the right strategy — removing hurdles and allowing the innovative energies of the American people to take the lead. Opposition to nationalizing 5G is strong and bipartisan.

When the idea was first proposed, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said that he opposed “any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network” and his Republican colleague Commissioner Mike O’Reilly compared the idea to a Ford Pinto. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also opposed the move, as did her colleague, Mignon Clyburn. When the idea reemerged this year, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote persuasively about why America must reject China’s top-down approach.

The FCC commissioners were and are right. Government intervention would achieve the exact opposite. Nationalizing or heavily regulating a 5G network would stifle competition and innovation.

History shows that when government steers clear, Americans enjoy the fruits of innovation. We urge the administration to give our innovators the space they need to keep America the world leader in wireless communications.

Billy Easley II is a senior tech policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group that works to advocate for limited government.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.