A Government-Owned 5G Network Would Be a Massive Boondoggle | Citizens Against Government Waste
The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

A Government-Owned 5G Network Would Be a Massive Boondoggle

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Despite mounting evidence to the contrary and President Trump’s announcement that he opposes nationalization of 5G, this idea keeps resurfacing.  And like many other concepts emanating from the Beltway Bandits, this one would be costly and disastrous.  It should be buried and not resurrected.

The latest argument being raised by proponents is beating China to 5G and securing national broadband infrastructure from cyber intrusions requires the government to be in charge of building the new internet infrastructure.  However, the government’s track record on information technology development (and everything else the private sector can do) falls far short of what companies are already doing and plan to achieve.

Building, operating, and managing 5G will be incredibly complex.  The federal government can’t manage and update its basic IT equipment and software.  Some of the current systems at critical agencies like the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Internal Revenue Service were created before many Americans were even born.  Across the government, more than 70 percent of the $80 billion information technology budget is being spent on outdated legacy systems; in some agencies that figure is 90 percent.  Yet, there are some in Washington who think that, just like Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, the government can build it stronger, faster, and better than the private sector. 

Proposing that the government be in charge of 5G is an invitation to a massive boondoggle.  It will not only be costly, as all single source projects become, it will be more vulnerable than having multiple providers, thereby subverting the cybersecurity argument being raised by nationalized 5G proponents.

On May 29, 2019, Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz conducted a Facebook Live interview with Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.  The commissioner noted that there are several reasons why a nationalized 5G plan is “bogus and will never work.”  He pointed out that the proposal is unworkable because the DOD spectrum that would be allocated for this purpose is so valuable that the FCC would not give it to a single company to use it for free.  He also noted that there is no substantive reason for developing a nationalized network.

There are a number of pitfalls that would be created by a nationalized 5G network that would delay, rather than accelerate, the deployment of 5G across the country.  Today, every major U.S. telecom provider is deploying 5G networks and continually expanding to new cities without government interference.  Given its poor track record on basic infrastructure improvements, ancient computers systems, and lack of ability to manage its own assets, the government has neither the experience nor the resources to take on such an endeavor. 

Giving away the 5G spectrum to one provider would be a massive rip off of taxpayers and one of the worst decisions ever made in Washington.  To date, taxpayers have benefited from $121.7 billion in spectrum sales.   Private innovation and investment have enabled the U.S. to be the global leader in technology and telecommunications.  Rather than continue to push for a government-operated or managed 5G network, public officials, special interests, and their advisors should focus on continuing to remove regulatory barriers and increase the amount of spectrum available for 5G deployment. 

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