House Democrats Investigate DOD 5G Plans

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The Democratic leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee have launched an investigation into the Department of Defense's "apparent moves" to own and operate a nationalized 5G network that commercial users would be leasing from the government.

They say that doing so without Congress' approval would be illegal.

That follows DOD's request of information (RFI) on such a network and reports that a request for proposal was already in the works--making the RFI appear window dressing, and that it could be "politically motivated."

Related: Conservative Groups Back GOP Pushback on Nationalized 5G

DOD also Thursday (Oct. 8) announced it was putting $600 million into test beds for dual-use 5G network related tech, on which it would team with the private sector and academia.

In letters to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House E&C, and Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), expressed their concerns and said that "any attempt by DoD to construct, operate or maintain a commercial communications network or lease government spectrum to commercial entities without the express permission of Congress could be unlawful."

They called for a GAO legal analysis, which GAO will then undertake since part of its job is to act on such requests from legislators, and wanted NTIA to answer a bunch of questions related to the potential political motives, including whether anyone from the White House or the Trump campaign had contacted NTIA about the RFI, whether Republican operatives Karl Rove, Peter Thiel of Newt Gingrich had contacted them, and whether NTIA knows anything about a possible RFP.

They cite reports that lobbyists and political operatives may be pushing the nationalized 5G network for the benefit of one company, Rivada, that has long championed such a network that it could build and operate using its sharing technology.

Given that FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the other commissioners have all told Congress they oppose a nationalized 5G network, Pallone and Doyle also want to know if that is NTIA's position as well.

“We thank Chairmen Pallone and Doyle for their leadership on this important issue," said Kelly Cole, SVP of government affairs for CTIA. "Private-sector solutions and free-market principles are critical to ensuring America leads in 5G, and it’s important to take a hard look at the dangers of nationalizing our wireless networks.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.