President Trump touts American progress in 5G race, unveils new rural broadband fund

President Donald Trump touted the U.S. progress in the race to 5G, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans for a new rural broadband fund, speaking at a press conference at the White House on Friday.

President Trump described “winning the race to be the world’s leader in providing 5G” as a “critical issue for our country’s future,” adding that the U.S. “cannot allow any other country to out-compete the United States in this powerful industry of the future.”

“Secure 5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America’s prosperity and national security in the 21st century,” Trump said. “It will make American farms more productive, make manufacturing more competitive, and American healthcare better and more accessible. Basically it covers almost everything.”

Acknowledging that “our great companies are now involved” and that the government has “given them the incentives they need,” Trump said 5G will be private sector-driven and private sector-led.

“The government doesn’t have to spend lots of money,” he said, adding that wireless companies plan to invest $275 billion in 5G networks, “creating 3 million American jobs very quickly,” and adding $500 billion to the economy.

Addressing a recently leaked proposal for a government-led 5G network from the Trump 2020 reelection campaign, which spurred backlash across the wireless industry, Trump said, “You probably heard we had another alternative of doing it, that would be through government investment and leading through the government—we don’t want to do that because it won’t be nearly as good, nearly as fast,” he said. 

RELATED: CTIA applauds White House for rejecting government-mandated wholesale 5G network

Instead, the president said the administration is “freeing up as much spectrum as needed” and “removing regulatory barriers to the build-out of networks.”

“The FCC is taking bold action, probably bolder than they’ve ever taken before to make wireless spectrum available,” he said. “By next year, the United States is on pace to have more 5G spectrum than any other country in the world.”

The FCC confirmed it will begin the third millimeter wave spectrum auction Dec. 10. The third 5G spectrum auction will be the largest in American history, with the FCC set to sell 3,400 megahertz in three different spectrum bands at one time.

RELATED: FCC's Pai set to visit White House, announce Dec. 10 start for 3rd millimeter wave auction

President Trump also touted the FCC’s work to streamline the permitting process for small cell infrastructure across state and local governments, including requiring local authorities to review applications for small cells in 90 days “instead of many years,” and capping fees local governments can charge wireless companies.

“They get greedy, they think ‘Hey, we can really take advantage,’ and it ends up that everybody gets hurt,” Trump said, stoking tensions between major cities and the FCC on the order. Local governments across the U.S. have been vocally opposed to the new rules.

Trump said the new rules on permitting will help wireless carriers deploy 5G networks across the U.S. quickly, ensuring an American win to the 5G race. “By the end of this year, the United States will have 92 5G deployments in markets nationwide,” he said. “The next nearest country, South Korea, will have 48.”

RELATED: Report: U.S. now tied with China in global 5G race

Finally, the president highlighted new details in a push to bring more connectivity to rural America. “The farmers and others, they just haven’t been treated properly,” he said. “And now, we’re making it a priority. These are the areas we want to go to first, so they’re covered. We’re working closely with federal agencies to get networks built in rural America faster, and at much, much lower cost than it is even today.”

The FCC later announced the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion fund to connect up to 4 million homes and small businesses across rural America to broadband services with speeds up to a gigabit per second. During a conference call with reporters, Pai said the money will come from the repurposing of the Universal Service Fund. The specific details will be determined after the FCC goes through its usual notice and comment process.

“The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund represents the FCC’s single biggest step yet to close the digital divide and will connect up to 4 million rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks,” the FCC said in a statement. “These networks will bring economic opportunity to rural America and help support future 5G technologies.”