Weeks after the Department of Defense (DoD) asked industry for information regarding how the department could “own and operate 5G networks for domestic operations,” several top Republican senators sent a letter to the White House this week urging the President to “remain on the free-market path” in the 5G wireless race.

“Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race,” the senators wrote in their Sept. 30 letter. “We strongly urge you to remain on the free-market path you have articulated, a path that will enable the United States to win the global 5G race.”

The Department of Defense (DoD) and White House announced in August that the Pentagon will make available 100 megahertz of mid-band wireless spectrum that will then be auctioned off to commercial wireless service providers offering 5G services as soon as December 2021.

Government agencies that control spectrum rarely want to give it up, and DoD’s agreement to let the private sector use the spectrum – presumably with some sharing arrangement that also allows for continuing military use – reveals a changing relationship between the Pentagon, government, and industry.

The September Request For Information (RFI) from the department asks “How could DoD own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations,” and “What are the potential issues with DoD owning and operating independent networks for its 5G operations?”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet signed onto the Sept. 30 letter which questions the contradiction between the President’s remarks on a “private-sector led” approach on 5G, and the contents of the DoD’s RFI.

“We write today to express our concerns about a Request For Information (RFI) released by the Department of Defense (DoD) that contradicts the successful free-market strategy you have embraced for 5G,” said Sen. Thune. Also signing the letter were Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., John Boozman, R-Ark., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Dan Sullivan, R-Ala., and Todd Young, R-Ind.

Sen. Thune led a subcommittee hearing this summer where senators questioned whether the decades-old spectrum management process was working properly.

“We have to figure this out,” said Sen. Thune, of spectrum management, at the conclusion of the hearing. “The stakes are so high, and our competitors are not having to delay, and sit around dealing with the bureaucratic, it seems like obstacles, that it we’re having to deal with here.”

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MeriTalk Staff