A national 5G wireless network is not such a stupid idea

For more than three decades, telecoms policy, at least in rich countries, has been a one-way street: more deregulation and more privatisation in order to foster more competition. This direction was set by America in 1984, when it broke up AT&T, its telephone monopoly. So there was much surprise at a recent memo, written for the White House by an official at the National Security Council, which argued that the next generation of mobile network, “5G” for short, should be built and run by the American government.

The 30-page paper was widely criticised, and quickly dismissed by experts and regulators. Protecting the network from Chinese hacking, the main reason for the proposal, does not require the state to run the entire network. Huawei, a Chinese maker of telecoms gear, is already all but barred from selling its wares to American operators. Government-run broadband would instead stifle competition and increase the risk of overreach by America’s own security agencies.

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