US President Donald Trump is reportedly considering placing large parts of the country’s massive, newly emerging 5G network under direct government control, according to a report on Axios.com.
The news website calls the potential move “an unprecedented federal takeover” and says it has the documents to prove it.
“We’ve got our hands on a PowerPoint deck and a memo – both produced by a senior National Security Council official – which were presented recently to senior officials at other agencies in the Trump administration,” reports Axios.
Reading between the lines, says Axios, the plan is nothing short of “an unprecedented nationalization of a historically private infrastructure”.
There are two options for building 5G infrastructure in the US: one is the idea of the government building a national network with centralised controls; and the second is to enable private companies, such as AT&T and Verizon to develop competing networks, with disparate control systems.
Axios says a source familiar with the documents and discussions says “a single centralized network is what’s required to protect America against China and other bad actors”.
However, being a capitalist nation, the US has traditionally enabled private enterprise to build and control infrastructure, even when the central government may have funded the initial investment in the groundwork.
Large-scale projects such as the early internet were government funded. So, too, was a large portion of the national highways network, under President Dwight Eisenhower.
Indeed, Axios quotes the cited memo which says the Trump administration likens one possible option for the takeover as being “the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System”.
Fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile telecommunications infrastructure is critical for future advanced technologies such as autonomous vehicles – not just better smartphone services.
5G is said to be significantly faster the 4G and of course 3G. Whereas it might take the best part of a day to download a movie on 3G, and several minutes on 4G, it would only take a few seconds with 5G.
And it’s not just the entertainment sector that will use 5G heavily.
Autonomous vehicles generate vast quantities of data and need to communicate with infrastructure components – such as traffic lights and road signs – in order to work properly.
Experts say the first sector to use large numbers of autonomous vehicles will be logistics, and several companies have already demonstrated driverless trucks that could be used for long-haul journeys, something which is becoming less attractive as a job option for human workers.
Such large vehicles clearly are potentially dangerous, especially as many cybersecurity experts claim that the internet of things – for which 5G will largely be an important platform – is relatively easy to hack.
Moreover, another report – this time on TheVerge.com – says fitness tracking apps are revealing the locations of military bases across the US.
Showing a map produced by fitness-tracking app maker Strava, The Verge quotes Nathan Ruser, of the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, who said on Twitter: “It looks very pretty, but not amazing for Op-Sec [operational security]. Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable.”
Strava’s does not directly – or indirectly – reveal the location of military bases, and anyway, Google satellite images would be a better place to research such things.
But Strava’s map is said by The Verge to provide “additional information – it reveals how people are moving along those areas, and how frequently, a potential security threat to personnel”.
The Verge does note, however, that, “This isn’t a new problem.”
It’s highly unlikely that the Trump administration will shut down Strava’s mapping app, much less Google’s satellite imagery, which are combined with its maps.
But given the Trump administration’s decision to change net neutrality rules to give large companies more control, and to monitor cryptocurrency transactions more closely, it’s not certain what it will decide to do.
Meanwhile, AT&T says it’s all set to launch its 5G network across 12 US locations by the end of this year, and Verizon is planning to roll out its 5G network in five areas, starting with Sacramento, California later this year.