TR Daily Industry Criticizes DoD-Operated 5G Network
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Monday, October 19, 2020

Industry Criticizes DoD-Operated 5G Network

A number of telecom industry entities have filed comments with the Department of Defense criticizing any plan by DoD to operate 5G networks for domestic operations rather than relying on commercial networks. Among other things, DoD was told that such a framework would face legal obstacles.

A request for information released by DoD last month (TR Daily, Sept. 19) focuses on dynamic sharing spectrum (DSS) in its spectrum and asks, among other things, "[h]ow could DoD own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations? What are the potential issues with DoD owning and operating independent networks for its 5G operations?" DoD also solicits comment on "spectrum leasing as an alternative to reallocation" and asks how that could be implemented.

The RFI has drawn criticism from members of Congress of both parties, industry entities, and free-market groups.

"The Department of Defense’s RFI on the possible creation of a government owned and operated 5G network is a very bad idea that raises serious legal concerns and threatens the important progress made by the FCC and NTIA," Rep. Doris Matsui (D., Calif.), vice chair of the House communications and technology subcommittee, said in a statement today. "It is crucial that this RFI not cause costly delays we can ill afford in bringing this valuable spectrum to market. With so much riding on the outcome of the global 5G race, now is not the time to pursue untested and unproven government technology. Instead, we should be reinforcing our support for policies that allow American innovators to move communications technology forward."

Comments on the RFI were due today.

Fred Moorefield, DoD's deputy chief information officer-command, control, and communications, said last week that DoD plans to publicly release the comments it receives, although he did not say when that would occur (TR Daily, Oct. 13). A DoD spokesman said today that the comments will be released after they are reviewed.

Mr. Moorefield also said that the RFI "has been viewed by some that DoD is looking to … compete with commercial industry. This is clearly a misreading and misrepresentation of the RFI. The purpose of the RFI is to seek information on innovative solutions and alternative approaches to enable dynamic spectrum sharing within the department’s currently allocated spectrum."

"The wireless industry welcomes the opportunity to work with DoD further on enabling commercial solutions to support military needs," CTIA said in its filing. "At the same time, the RFI’s focus on a DoD-managed spectrum sharing arrangement between the military and the private sector, or a lease by DoD of National Telecommunications and Information Administration (‘NTIA’)-assigned spectrum to commercial entities, is the wrong approach and fails to account for the statutory framework governing the assignment of spectrum for commercial use and the stunning success of that market-driven approach. The United States leads the world in wireless due largely to a spectrum assignment framework focused on clearing spectrum resources, auctioning exclusive-use spectrum licenses, and enabling wireless service providers to invest and innovate in a robustly competitive wireless market, putting spectrum to its highest and best use for American consumers, businesses, and government entities as well.

"The RFI contemplates a dramatic departure from this approach with DoD inserting itself into this thriving commercial sector," CTIA complained. "This would be a mistake. A DoD-managed arrangement that shares or leases DoD-assigned spectrum to the private sector, or otherwise makes available DoD 5G network capacity for commercial use, would undercut the market-driven spectrum assignment framework and undermine the investment and innovation at the heart of the American wireless ecosystem. This is all the more important in the mid-band spectrum context given that the United States is lagging other nations in making this vital spectrum available for 5G. Further, any such DoD-managed initiative would contravene multiple statutes that restrict federal agencies’ intervention in the allocation of spectrum for commercial purposes and prohibit federal agencies from entering into an arrangement in exchange for compensation from, or providing compensation to, private actors absent Congressional authority. Finally, there are serious questions whether an approach in which DoD owns and operates or manages a 5G network would best serve the interests of DoD and the United States."

CTIA said the NTIA Organization Act would prevent DoD from granting a right to commercial operation on federal frequencies without FCC authorization and the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, would require that commercial licenses to use the spectrum be assigned by auction. It also said that the framework pondered in the RFI would run afoul of the Miscellaneous Receipts Act and the

Anti-Deficiency Act.

USTelecom argued that questions in the RFI about DoD owning and operating its own 5G networks "rest on a dangerous false premise. The idea that a U.S. government agency might seek to own and operate its own national 5G network would not only reverse decades of the Department’s approach to leveraging industry innovation for its complex communications needs, but, further, it would undermine U.S. national security, technological leadership, and economic prosperity in the 5G era. To be blunt, neither the Department nor any other government agency could own and operate such a national network without security risks and technology and cost inefficiencies that would outweigh any possible benefits. Rather than trying to do so, the Department and the federal government more broadly should instead leverage and build on existing models for U.S. government support for private sector innovations in network deployment and operation."

USTelecom added, "It is our hope that this particular set of questions in the RFI is simply a miscommunication of the Department’s intent. Indeed, we have taken heart in recent public comments that indicate that the Department did not wish to imply that it is looking to develop its own national 5G network—that instead, the intent of the RFI is to help the Department ‘change the game’ in spectrum management to allow for the most efficient use of the Department’s spectrum."

"To the extent that the Department seeks access to a nationwide 5G network, CCA encourages the department to acknowledge the tremendous successes of private network investment and to work with industry towards a mutually beneficial solution," said the Competitive Carriers Association. "There remains, of course, more work to be done to promote competition and achieve ubiquitous wireless connectivity in the United States. But government should focus on smart policies to help close the digital divide, rather than seeking to displace private investment. The Department therefore should look to leverage private commercial deployments rather than attempt to build, operate, and maintain its own government-owned and controlled network."

The Telecommunications Industry Association said it doesn’t interpret DoD’s RFI as seeking comment on a nationwide 5G network run by the government, which TIA said it would oppose.

"The ICT industry has invested billions of dollars in order to create national, commercial 5G networks. TIA does not support undercutting this massive investment by introducing a government-owned public network that would essentially give away spectrum for free. TIA agrees with leading government experts who have come out against such a notion.," the trade group said.

TIA added, "To explore the issues raised in the RFI, TIA would support the establishment of an industry-DoD working group to analyze spectrum sharing between DoD incumbents and industry."

"Some have construed the Department’s RFI as an attempt by the DOD to run a national public 5G network. 5G Americas does not read the RFI in that manner and appreciates the Department’s clarification of its intent in recent public statements," said 5G Americas, pointing to Mr. Moorefield’s comments last week. "Were the RFI to have called for such a proposal, 5G Americas would have urged the Department not to depart from the current model of competing commercial networks. As the Department understands, the U.S. has led in 4G and now 5G because it has chosen the free market competitive network model. … 5G Americas recognizes the particular national security concerns with the Department operating its own 5G private networks. Additionally, it cautions that the history of spectrum policy is replete with particular users wanting their own dedicated spectrum, such as the utilities or public safety."

5G Americas also said that "DoD should continue to review 3100-3450 MHz for commercial repurposing, since this range has international support and corresponds with the mid-band being harmonized around the world for 5G."

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said that "many of the questions ask whether DoD ‘could’ pursue a specific approach to DSS, but the better question is whether DoD ‘should’ pursue any approach that substitutes central government planning for a market-driven wireless infrastructure approach that has served millions of American consumers well for decades.

"Before DoD presses forward with a nationalized approach to infrastructure deployment, it should first ask the question whether such an approach will advance national communications policy goals any faster or more efficiently than the current approach of providing private operators the spectrum resources they need to serve consumers," WISPA added. "The answer to that question is undoubtedly ‘no.’ The federal government does not need to own or even directly operate commercial networks, but can utilize ‘private networks’ and can operate isolated networks within networks in which the control, security, and operational aspects of the network function as if they are entirely under the government's control. In addition, a model in which DoD leases spectrum under a revenue-sharing arrangement would tend to disfavor small providers that cannot provide DoD with sufficient scale."

"A nationalized 5G network would be inadvisable. Such a network would present a single point of attack for an enemy, and it would present numerous vulnerabilities that would hinder mission critical operations," the Wireless Infrastructure Association said. "Instead, DoD should continue the long-standing national policy of encouraging industry to make the investments needed to realize the benefits of private sector-led 5G to not only the U.S. economy but also for military readiness and enhanced capabilities. To lead the world in 4G, U.S. companies invested heavily in developing innovative products and services, and they also drove industry standards that powered 4G. Similarly, supporting U.S. industry in developing 5G equipment and standards would provide more options for federal users, as well as U.S. allies, making them less reliant on adversaries. It is not only a competitive advantage for the United States to have U.S. companies lead the way on 5G, but it is also a strategic advantage to allow a robust private sector to invest in 5G technologies."

"DoD explains that the purpose of the RFI is to seek information on innovative solutions and alternative approaches to enable the sharing of its spectrum, ‘with the goal of accelerating spectrum sharing decisions and 5G deployment,’ and to ensure the greatest effective and efficient use of its spectrum resources. T-Mobile applauds DoD’s fundamental goals, which are consistent with U.S. efforts to identify government spectrum that is underutilized and convert it to full or partial commercial use," T-Mobile US, Inc., said.

"However, DoD’s implementation of those objectives should not include the development of its own stand-alone network which would, among other negative outcomes, divert needed spectrum for commercial networks," the carrier said. "The wireless industry has already invested hundreds of billions of dollars and decades of time into commercial wireless networks, which serve as the foundation for next-generation 5G services and solidify the Nation’s global leadership in wireless communications and technologies. Rather than attempt to duplicate these efforts—which would potentially require taxpayer funds and sidetrack spectrum capacity from commercial networks that serve consumers and businesses—DoD should leverage existing networks for its operational needs.

"Any DoD spectrum that is not required to support its needs on a nationwide basis should be reallocated and made available on an exclusive licensed basis to commercial networks," T-Mobile added. "T-Mobile and others have used existing spectrum capacity to deliver cutting-edge services. To continue to build on that success and fuel greater competition and capabilities, more spectrum is needed. And reallocating DoD spectrum would not only further bolster commercial users’ networks, but it would also create a virtuous cycle of greater capacity for DoD itself to utilize those networks and the advanced technologies those networks will feature. If DoD continues to need access to a portion of the spectrum that is reallocated, it can be accommodated through sharing mechanisms negotiated with commercial users, with as limited constraints on non-Federal use as possible. While spectrum leasing, in cases where reallocation is not feasible, could be examined, that option presents several legal and practical hurdles that may be difficult to overcome."

AT&T, Inc., did not release its DoD filing by TR Daily’s deadline today, but in a blog posting, Joan Marsh, the carrier’s executive vice president-federal regulatory relations, complained that "[w]hat’s really at issue … is the determination of a vested minority to roll the dice with American 5G leadership by upending the proven methods of delivering wireless service in the U.S. in favor of unproven spectrum allocation approaches." She added that "it makes no sense to do something so drastic and unproven (whether you call it ‘nationalizing’ or ‘wholesaling’ or ‘spectrum arbitrage’ … ."

"Many of the individual information requests are not objectionable, and we appreciate those that are directed, in the words of the RFI, to ensuring ‘the greatest effective and efficient use of the Department of Defense’s spectrum for training, readiness, and lethality.’ But to the extent that the RFI suggests or implies that DoD should or could somehow ‘own or operate’ networks as a commercial 5G wireless provider, we strongly oppose any such suggestion or implication," said the Free State Foundation.

"Private sector leadership is essential to securing and maintaining the U.S. position at the forefront of deployment and innovative development of 5G services," the group added. "U.S. policy with regard to commercial communications services, including 5G, has been and should remain staked on free market enterprise. Department of Defense entry into the commercial 5G market by virtue of ‘ownership and operation’ of 5G networks would contravene that policy. DoD almost certainly lacks legal authority to engage in such commercial ventures. And to do so would put taxpayer money at risk. There is a line separating DoD using its own spectrum allocations for its own purposes from private sector providers using their spectrum allocations to offer commercial wireless services. Nothing about the transition from 4G to 5G makes maintaining the separation of that line any less important."

In response to DoD’s questions about operating its own 5G networks, Nokia said that it "welcomes DoD’s exploration of private networks for its own operations" and it touted its "unparalleled end-to-end capabilities for secure, high-performing private networks. … In sum, private wireless can support all mission-critical vertical applications. 5G NR private networking solutions can provide pervasive and predictable connectivity to automate operations, ensure safety and security, and to significantly enhance efficiency and productivity." —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment

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