Muni Wi-Fi Metastasizes

"Fake news" resurrects the idea of direct government involvement in providing 5G wireless. Truth and sanity have left the building.

I truly hope that this is the only story I will ever have to write on this topic. I read yesterday morning, with utter disbelief, that an internal memo is circulating (no link provided) that suggests the Trump administration is considering taking over the carriers' 5G wireless networks or possibly building its own. Media site Axios apparently broke the story over the weekend, and both The Wall Street Journal and CNN had picked it up by Monday morning.

According to WSJ, the unnamed author of the memo, attributed to officials at the National Security Council, apparently urges the Trump administration to "consider extraordinary efforts to clear the way for the new technology or even to help build it in order to counter the growing economic and political threat from China's aggressive efforts to develop 5G."

I'm not really familiar with Axios, so I can't judge its proclivity toward "fake news," but reporting on a major topic and then failing to provide a link to the source of its information doesn't build one's confidence.

In line with its primary objective of trashing all things Trump, CNN's Christine Romans introduced her report with, "the Trump administration is considering a federal takeover of 5G networks to protect U.S. phone calls from possible Chinese spying." The report goes on to say the Trump's national security team might "centralize" control of the country's 5G networks. All of this is attributed to that Axios story.

A breathless Romans goes on to say that a government takeover of this type is "unprecedented" and "controversial"-- wrong on both counts.

The federal government actually took over the entire U.S. telecommunications industry in 1918 -- then too citing "national security" as the reason -- and subsequently corrected that mistake about a year later. Nor is this move "controversial" -- as near as we can tell, nobody but nobody thinks this is a good idea.

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded almost immediately, saying, "I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network." Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat and the longest-serving FCC member, also came out against the idea before noon Monday. By midday Monday, Axios was reporting even GOP legislators opposed to the idea. "We're not Venezuela," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on stage at a Washington conference. "We don't need to have the government run anything as the only choice."

What we're not hearing is anyone, certainly not anyone with any responsibility in the Trump administration, who actually thinks a government takeover is something under consideration. In fact, all we've got in favor of this brain-fart idea is a "reported memo" that no one has seen, from an unknown source, with undefined authority proposing an off-the-wall delusion as a real direction the administration might actually adopt.

Despite CNN's best efforts to paint this as yet another bonehead move by Team Trump, so far, no one from the White House has even bothered to comment on it.

I won't even bother to comment on how idiotic it would be for the federal government to take over the cellular carriers' 5G networks (not to mention that the vast majority of the cellular carriers' networks today use 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies), because no one is saying we should do it. It's like someone awoke from a 10-year coma and decided to resurrect the idea of muni Wi-Fi again.

So what's going on?

I thought you'd never ask. This is how "fake news" works. First you take some no-name (or "minor name") website and feed it a meaningless tidbit of low-level non-news on which it can then "report" in hopes the national media will "pick it up," greatly adding to its prestige.

If the major media do latch onto it, some, like WSJ, will report the "facts" as disclosed (i.e., no attribution, no access to the original information, no substantiated information about how far along the decision process the idea may have progressed, no meaningful comments from informed industry sources, etc.). However, other media outlets, particularly ones with strong political biases they like to air (try "CNN"), can grab it, paint it in the worst possible terms, attribute it fully to legitimate authority (i.e. the Trump administration, if you're having trouble following this) and use it to further a political position they have long endorsed.

Fake news is indeed a dangerous game, but I predict this lump of obvious stupidity will fade fast; I'm just sad that the lowlifes that engage in this sort of thing decided to include our industry in their shenanigans this time. The actual story (or lack thereof) will die out quickly, but it can be resurrected by anyone at any time and be distorted even further to emphasize whatever point some politico or self-serving "news source" is trying to make.

We represent an important industry, one that has had a major positive impact on the economy and on how people live and work -- please leave us out of your circus.

Post Script: I guess Axios can count this gambit as a success. The WSJ this morning ran an editorial titled "5G White House Folly ." Their justification for running it was telling: "The White House said Monday the memo was out of date, and it had no plans for a federal internet, but this is a bad enough idea that it needs to be preemptively strangled lest it reappear." Amen.

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