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How the FCC is trying to pave the way for widespread 5G technology

President Trump announced a series of moves Friday aimed at boosting development of a new frontier of high-speed mobile networks. Known as 5G, as in the fifth generation of cellular networks, the technology could eventually offer speeds up to 100 times faster than those available now. Amna Nawaz talks to Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, about how the government is trying to make it easier for companies to offer 5G coverage.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    President Trump today announced a series of moves to boost the development of next generation high-speed mobile networks in the U.S., known as 5G. 5G, which stands for the fifth generation of cellular networks, could eventually work as much as 100 times faster than current networks.

    As its reach grows, 5G would weave its way into an ever wider swathe of the economy including health care, energy, transportation such as self-driving cars, and much more. Many experts say the U.S. has been slow to get into the game. But the president said the FCC would work to make it easier for companies to do so. That includes freeing up high-frequency airwaves, or spectrum, to carry 5G.

    And the FCC plans to spend $20 billion over 10 years on expanding 5G broadband for rural communities who don't have access to high-speed Internet.

    Ajit Pai is the chair of the FCC, and he joins me now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Ajit Pai:

    Thank you for having me on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, I want to ask you about what one of your Democratic colleagues on the FCC had to say about our efforts to get into 5G. She said, so far, we have done more harm than good.

    She cites the president's tariffs on 5G equipment, says the White House has been alienating security allies we need to expand that network. How do those things hamper your ability to build and grow the network?

  • Ajit Pai:

    I respectfully disagree.

    If you look at some of the independent observers, they believe that the United States is in the lead when it comes to 5G. For example, Cisco recently put out a report suggesting that North America, led, of course, by the United States , would have twice as many 5G connections as Asia by 2022.

    That same month, ABI Research said flatly that the United States is in the lead in 5G. And over the last week, CTIA pointed out that the United States will have 92 deployments of 5G in the United States by the end of 2019, which is almost twice as many as any country in the world.

    And just on Tuesday, a report came out that was reported in Bloomberg pointing out that 5G-related job listings in the United States have increased 12 percent just over the last three weeks. So these are objective indicia of the fact that we are in the lead in 5G.

    But we want to maintain that lead. And that's part of the reason why I was at the White House today to announce two new initiatives.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, deployment is one thing, but consumer use is another, right? We have no domestic manufacturers of the equipment needed to use 5G. We're wholly reliant on foreign equipment.

    And the U.S. won't allow Huawei, right, which is sort of the leader in this space, to supply gear because of very serious concerns. So don't all those things stand in your way?

  • Ajit Pai:

    Not at all.

    There are other suppliers in the world who don't present the same security challenges that certain companies do. And that's part of the reason why we are in the lead, despite the fact that there are some other countries and companies that may pose security risks.

    We have made sure that our supply chain has integrity. And that's why, going forward, in working with some of our foreign counterparts, we have emphasized them too that the choice on 5G is not one between security and deployment. You can have the two go together. And that is exactly what the United States has done so far.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about the cost now.

    AT&T and Verizon has already begun rolling out 5G service in some select cities. Verizon already announced it's going to charge customers more to be able to upgrade their phones and to have a more expensive plan to use that service.

    When you rolled back net neutrality rules in 2017, you said that those same Internet service providers, like Verizon, would be able to offer better, cheaper Internet. So, was rolling back net neutrality a bad call?

  • Ajit Pai:

    No, there's no connection whatsoever between that and 5G.

    Moreover, you couldn't have 5G services if you had these heavy-handed utility-style regulations. The entire point of these heavy-handed regulations was to make sure that everybody got exactly the same service.

    5G promises dramatically faster service, as you pointed out in your lead-in, a hundred times faster speeds, many more applications and services, the likes of which we can't even conceive today. We want to make sure we have a market-based approach that promotes that kind of infrastructure investment, wireless innovation.

    We want that to happen here in the United States. You can't have it if you have the government sitting in charge of how these networks operate and are managed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But it's going to cost consumers more to have to access that faster network. How is that better and cheaper?

  • Ajit Pai:

    I respectfully disagree.

    We're at the early stages of 5G, as we see these services rolled out. We're going to see different types of business models. And especially in rural areas, where we're talking about 5G for things like precision agriculture, for fixed wireless services for parts of the country where you can't get a fiber line, these are — these are applications that would be tremendously beneficial for consumers.

    And that's part of the reason why we want to maintain U.S. leadership. We want our consumers to be able to benefit first from that innovation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned reaching some of those rural communities.

    That $20 billion you mentioned will go to extend broadband services to those communities. But why will it take $20 billion of basically government subsidy to do something that the Internet service providers should have been doing already?

  • Ajit Pai:

    Well, unfortunately, the reality in this country is there are many places that have very sparse populations, relatively lower incomes, where the business case for deployment for a private business simply might not be there.

    And that's part of the reason why, many decades ago, Congress made a bipartisan decision to entrust the Federal Communications Commission with what is called the Universal Service Fund, a fund that essentially devotes capital expenditures and operational expenditures to smaller companies that are looking to build out broadband in some of these unserved parts of the country.

    When I got into office, I said, this has got to be our top priority, closing that digital divide. I have been to some very remote places in this country, from the Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, to small towns in New Hampshire. And I can tell you that there are — there's a lot of human capital on the shelf in these small towns.

    And that's part of the reason why I made this announcement today. I want them to be participants in, as opposed to spectators of, the digital economy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There is a broader concern I would like to get your take on about 5G just as an idea , that the Internet of things isn't all good.

    There's valid concerns, right, about hacking and security and privacy. So, in the rush to build, to be the leader in this space and expand this network here in the United States, what are you doing now, what specific steps are you taking to safeguard against those concerns?

  • Ajit Pai:

    Many steps.

    First and foremost, we are working with other federal partners, for example, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, which is the lead in terms of some of these issues.

    We're also participating in some of the technical standard-setting bodies. 5G is going to incorporate a lot of these security protocols as it is being developed, as opposed to 4G, where a lot of the security concerns were tried — we tried to backfill in terms of security solutions.

    And so, in a whole variety of ways, we want to make sure that these networks are fast, reliable, but also secure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the $20 billion going into getting to underserved communities.

    But you have also said that you hope the private sector would step in to serve some of those underserved communities. It's not just in rural places in America, we should point out. It's also in urban communities. What are you doing to make sure that happens?

  • Ajit Pai:

    We have a lot of different initiatives to make sure that lower-income areas, even in urban areas, aren't left on the wrong side of the digital divide. For example…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you have initiatives. What about the private sector, you said, would fill in?

  • Ajit Pai:

    Exactly.

    So just last year, for example, we adopted a policy called one-touch make-ready to allow competitive fiber providers to gain easier and cheaper access to utility poles, which is one of the biggest cost elements in building out a broadband network in urban areas.

    Three years ago, I proposed — and bipartisan members of Congress have suggested it in legislation — that we create essentially gigabit opportunities zones, create tax incentives for companies to build infrastructure in these unserved urban areas.

    I truly believe there's a lot of human capital, a lot of entrepreneurship, a lot of innovation that could happen there. But it can't happen if there isn't a digital connection. We want to change that. And that's why, working together with Congress and with interested stakeholders, we are taking action.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, thank you very much for being here today.

  • Ajit Pai:

    Thanks again for having me.

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