Policy Summary

The adoption of 5G as the mobile telecommunications standard in the US has been painfully slow. The Federal leadership for this technological leap is provided by a conflicting set of agencies; the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. All have overlapping responsibilities and mandates in this technological space.

The agency most closely charged with overseeing 5G—the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) , part of the Commerce Department – has been leaderless since May 2019, with no director even nominated. David Redl, assistant secretary for communications and information abruptly resigned, days after criticizing US 5G policy in a public statement,

In addition worldwide adoption of 5G has been disrupted by President Trump’s frequent denunciation of the Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers Huawei and ZTE warning that employment of these company’s equipment could cause the US to limit data sharing with those countries where the equipment is in use.


Mobile providers tout the speed of 5G vs.4G networks with data transfer rates of up to 10 times faster.While these numbers are impressive and speak to the appetite of mobile users to watch movies in higher resolutions and transfer data that much more quickly, it only tells part of the story. The real improvement will be increased capacity and diversity of devices. The long promised Internet of Things (IoT) will connect an ever increasing array of wirelessly connected devices that can be controlled and programmed remotely.

What makes 5G different from its predecessor technologies is its reliance on radio frequencies in the extremely high frequency 30 GHz to 300 GHz range. 4G networks use frequencies below 6 GHz. This is where the FCC, NASA and NOAA get involved. These frequencies had been reserved for NASA and weather forecasting and it is up to the FCC to allocate those frequencies which it has been slow to do. 5G also uses different cell towers which must get local approval in communities concerned about how safe 5G radio waves are.

In January, Congressman Gregg Walden (R-OR) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ.) asked the GAO to probe these same issues. Walden and Pallone found “inefficient management and chaotic processes.”

The President has sought, unsuccessfully, to influence world leaders to eschew the Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE. He has cited concerns that these provider’s close ties to the government make their products suspect of having “back doors” which could allow Chinese government surveillance. Where this may be a concern there has been no evidence to back up this claim. Many in the UK and EU discount the risk and have embraced the proven ability of these companies products.

President Donald Trump has said that he wants America to win the race to the fast new wireless future. He took it seriously enough to sign a presidential memorandum setting a deadline of July 2019 for a new national strategy on allocating the airwaves. That deadline came and went with no strategy in sight. With no leadership at NTIA a coherent strategy seems far off.

Resistance Resources

  1. Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has a goal to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy.
  2. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is a unified voice for home broadband access, public broadband access, personal devices and local technology training and support programs
  3. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has a collection of articles on 5G technology and policy.
  4. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University provided a discussion of how 5G will work for the public interest.
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