Confusion reigns in Trump 2020's 5G 'wholesale' vision as industry rejects proposal

Members of President Trump’s re-election committee are doing damage control today after news of a surprising 5G policy proposal circulated Friday.

Politico reported that Trump 2020 officials are backing a controversial 5G proposal that would see the government taking over spectrum designated for 5G and developing a system to share the spectrum with wireless providers on a wholesale basis. The proposal stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s current stance on 5G, which advocates for an industry-led roll out of the wireless technology.

In an interview with Politico, the Trump 2020 campaign National Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the wholesale market would “drive down costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved.”

But Trump administration officials have begun to walk back those comments as news of the proposal sent waves of confusion across the wireless industry. Axios reports that McEnany later stated, “The White House sets the policy on 5G and all issues. Naturally, the campaign fully supports the president’s priorities and his policy agenda. There is no daylight between the White House and the campaign.”

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The wholesale plan was reportedly being pushed by Trump 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale and Adviser Newt Gingrich. According to Politico, the Trump team believes taking a wholesale market approach to 5G might help the president gain support from rural voters who have continued to suffer from lack of broadband access.

The proposal is similar to one being pushed by Declan Ganley, CEO of wireless company Rivada Networks. Longtime Trump ally Peter Thiel is an investor in Rivada Networks, sparking concerns that the wholesale proposal could benefit the company.

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According to Politico’s report, Rivada Networks has been lobbying the Trump administration for a system that would enable spectrum allocated for the Department of Defense to be made available on a wholesale basis to other parties.

And it’s not the first time the Trump administration has proposed a government-led approach to 5G. In early 2018, a leaked National Security Council memo proposed rolling out a nationalized 5G network in order to compete with China.

The idea of nationalizing 5G was immediately rejected by FCC members and wireless industry leaders. The leak forced White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow to comment last year that “the White House is officially behind this free-enterprise, free-market approach.”