- - Sunday, July 21, 2019

President Trump has made it clear he intends for the United States to win the race to 5G. So far, it’s been hard to get out of the starting blocks. Some of the people who work for him apparently don’t want to step into the starting blocks.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, recently sent a letter asking Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to assure him the delays in making government-owned spectrum available for the project were not intentional.

The activities inside the Commerce Department are a source of concern to advocates for American leadership in the development of this critical technology. “It has come to my attention that one of your senior advisers may be placing personal animosity ahead of our country’s 5G goals,” Mr. Johnson wrote, something that undermines “the NTIA’s mission to ‘expand the use of spectrum by all users.”

In the swamp, it’s considered normal for folks inside federal agencies to resist going in the direction the political leadership wants to go. What’s unusual in this case is that the resistance is not coming from deep insides the agency’s innards but from deputy chief of staff Earl Comstock, a senior advisor to the secretary on the 5G issue.

Spectrum deliberations are best conducted by engineers working collaboratively together to solve challenges, not bureaucrats trying to defend their turf,” Mr. Johnson wrote after learning of efforts at the 11th hour to block the recent 24GHz spectrum auction by suggestions its privatization might interfere with the government’s ability to accurately forecast the weather.

As Mr. Johnson explained in his letter, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai debunked those claims. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contention, he said, derived from a study that was “fundamentally flawed.” Others knowledgeable on the matter described NOAA’s position as laughable, useful only to bureaucrats wishing to keep the spectrum under their control.

The United States is the global leader in technology breakthroughs. The light bulb, the airplane, the telephone, even the Internet were invented here using what used to be called good, ole’ fashion American ingenuity. The same should be true for the development of 5G, which the president has prioritized. Instead, people within the administration stand in the way, trying to block the auction of 24GHz spectrum, something needed desperately by those constructing the next level of wireless communication.

There are some congressional champions besides Mr. Johnson who are standouts in calling attention to the problem. Oregon U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Tuesday at hearing on America’s wireless future, “Moving forward, to become the world’s leader in 5G deployment brings tough decisions. The 5G marketplace requires more spectrum as quickly as possible. We must also carefully balance this demand with our responsibility to consider the effects on incumbent spectrum users, and the value they provide to the American consumer.”

He’s right — and administration insiders who are busy arguing against what must be done are doing so counterproductively. They should continue instead to follow the principles that led to the successful development and deployment of 4G. A sole-source provider strategy for 5G, as some want, would be time-consuming, costly, and bureaucratically complicated.

U.S. wireless industry leadership is vital to continued growth in the economy. Reducing the amount of spectrum now available, failure to make more available as needs arise, even questioning the need for 5G gives the Chinese and the Europeans the opportunity not just the opportunity to pass what America is doing but to lap it several times over. The impact that would have on our markets would be staggering. 5G leadership could provide the next great leap forward, to borrow a phrase, creating jobs and industries that lead to higher living standards and a sustained uptick in the economy.

All this is necessary to ensure America’s continued global leadership. The end of the 24 GHz auction provides crucial momentum that, for the moment, gives us an edge on our global competitors. Meddling from those inside the federal government whose disagree with the president’s policies on this issue is harmful on many levels and must end.

So far, they’ve largely been quiet and worked behind the scenes. They’re using the bureaucracy as a choke point despite the president’s clear instruction to pick up the pace. We cannot be reckless with 5G policy. Secretary Ross must take deliberate action to bring his team in line with what the White House wants. Any further action to keeps moving at dial-up speed should be considered as handing the advantage directly to our America’s biggest rivals.

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