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Is DoD Control of Our 5G Future the US Path to Innovation?

Earlier this week the Department of Defense concluded the time it allowed for people to submit information regarding the Department’s plan to own and operate a national 5G network.
The DoD was seeking guidance on how it could support and develop 5G deployment for military and commercial users within the same spectrum frequency bands. Last month the DoD’s CIO said, "What we learn in this effort has potential to benefit the entire nation and keep the U.S. as the global leader of 5G technology for many years to come." Count that as bureaucratic narcissism.
5G is the latest wireless communications technology, following 3G and 4G. This generation is not just a singular system but rather a system of systems that will work with previous technologies. However, it will also require new infrastructure, including small antennas that are fairly easily hung on a building, as well as new investments in fiber, cell towers and base stations to accommodate the “backhaul.”
Speedy wireless access will be everywhere in urban areas bringing more of everything valued in wireless broadband and enabling new applications such as remote surgery and automated transportation. But rural areas won’t be left out, as one company already has committed to covering vast swaths of rural areas with 5G.
While the DoD is “learning” in an effort to “benefit the entire nation,” three private sector 5G systems that already exist continue to rapidly expand.
For years, municipalities around the country have tried, and ultimately failed, to set up their own government-owned communications systems to compete with the private sector. Often, they stated to “just” provide a wholesale product, allowing others to sell retail, as if this were somehow less odious.
Failures abound. The reasons for the failures are numerous, but the outcome was predictable—taxpayer funds being wasted.
And while some would nit-pick the details of the failures, the fact remains that taxpayer money was put at risk, often without approval of taxpayers, and most often squandered.
As we often see, governments chronically underestimate the cost of building out and maintaining networks and chronically overestimate adoption rates and revenue flow. The constant miscalculation should not come as a surprise. Municipalities and states across the country constantly struggle to maintain the relatively static infrastructure of streets, sidewalks, bridges, buildings and the like.
Similarly, the federal government seems to struggle maintaining national parks, transportation infrastructure, the veteran’s hospital and medical care system, and even the living quarters of our nation’s enlisted men and women.
Technology infrastructure and maintenance are vastly more challenging. Failing to keep up with necessary advances will once again spell failure.
The DoD seems to be shockingly unaware of the extent of technological innovation and progress in this country and how it came to be. The internet, broadband, wireless, online commerce, and innovation in general have made great progress, but not because of government “leadership,” military or otherwise.
Our technological present has happened—and the future innovation that will happen—because of hardworking Americans competing in a vibrant marketplace of ideas, products and services, not because of government “help.”