Count Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., as a “no” vote at this point on at least one aspect of the Defense Department’s (DoD) request for information (RFI) issued last month that solicits public input on a range of issues involving the Pentagon’s plans to deploy 5G wireless services.

The RFI seeks comment on, among other things, how DoD can share the spectrum it already holds with other parties for 5G services, with the overarching goal of “accelerating spectrum sharing decisions and 5G deployment.”

Of evident concern to Rep. Matsui – along with wireless industry trade group CTIA – is one aspect of the RFI in which DoD asks for comment on how the Pentagon “could own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations.”

Rep. Matsui said in an Oct. 19 statement that the portion of the RFI regarding DoD-owned and operated 5G networks “is a very bad idea that raises serious legal concerns and threatens the important progress made by the FCC and NTIA” on 5G spectrum allocations to private-sector service providers.

“It is crucial that this RFI not cause costly delays we can ill afford in bringing this valuable spectrum to market,” Rep. Matsui said. “With so much riding on the outcome of the global 5G race, now is not the time to pursue untested and unproven government technology. Instead, we should be reinforcing our support for policies that allow American innovators to move communications technology forward.”

Her comments were in line with those of CTIA, which said “there are serious questions whether an approach in which DoD owns and operates or manages a 5G network would best serve the interests of DoD and the United States.”

“A network owned-and-operated by DoD or shared with commercial entities as the RFI seems to suggest poses a number of risks and limitations,” CTIA said. “First, there is a long track record of built-for-and-owned-by government networks that fail to keep up with technology innovations and upgrades that commercial networks incorporate routinely – and at great expense – in response to the robustly competitive market.”

“The public interest demands that DoD not attempt to replicate an approach that has consistently failed to serve its essential purpose so many times before,” the trade group said.

“At the same time, DoD management of a complex sharing arrangement would divert attention away from the department’s core mission, which is national defense. DoD is not set up to oversee commercial wireless networks, and should not be distracted by the responsibility of managing a commercial 5G network or taking the actions necessary to enable such an arrangement,” CTIA said.

The trade group said it welcomed the opportunity to work with DoD on “enabling commercial solutions to support military needs.” But the group added that “the RFI’s focus on a DoD-managed spectrum sharing arrangement between the military and the private sector, or a lease by DoD of National Telecommunications and Information Administration (‘NTIA’)-assigned spectrum to commercial entities, is the wrong approach and fails to account for the statutory framework governing the assignment of spectrum for commercial use and the stunning success of that market-driven approach.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.