WASHINGTON — The US government is considering a federal takeover of portions of the country’s mobile broadband networks, according to documents obtained by Axios.
A National Security Council official presented senior members of the President Donald Trump’s administration and other agencies with information suggesting that the United States needs to centralize its 5G network by the end of the President’s first term as a safeguard against Chinese cybersecurity and economic threats, according to the documents.
Government control of 5G infrastructure would be unprecedented and highly controversial, as the industry has traditionally been privately controlled.
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.
A PowerPoint presentation and memo obtained by Axios argue a centralized 5G system would be easier to protect from cyber threats.
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, President 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.