A bipartisan group of senators called on the White House to name a 5G coordinator to tackle what lawmakers described as an “unprecedented security challenge” presented by the new technology.
In a Nov. 18 letter addressed to Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, the senators wrote that they wanted the White House to lead an effort to develop a national strategy on 5G. They warned that the United States is falling behind on 5G development and allowing China to fill the gap.
“5G represents the first evolutionary step for which an authoritarian nation leads the marketplace for telecommunications solutions,” the letter read. It was signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence, homeland security, foreign relations and armed services committees.
The senators urged O’Brien to designate one individual “focused solely on coordinating and leading the nation’s effort to develop and deploy future telecommunications technologies.”
Having a single person at the helm of 5G would help the United States become the world’s leaders on the technology, they wrote.
In the letter, the senators explained their concerns about the approach to 5G now. Right now, government agencies are taking their own approaches to the 5G threat, with no ordained federal lead to direct and coordinate activities. It’s a familiar problem for the government, nearly identical to the one it faces with federal cybersecurity, where agencies are in charge of their own cybersecurity. The federal government also lacks a cybersecurity coordinator, a position that leaders on Capitol Hill urged O’Brien to restore on the day he was named the White House’s national security adviser.
Without the 5G coordinator, the senators wrote “we expect each agency will continue to operate within its own mandate, rather than identifying national authority and policy deficiencies.”
“This fractured approach will not be sufficient to rise to the challenge the country faces,” they wrote.
The letter comes a few weeks after the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on 5G threats where witnesses warned about the lack of a national plan.
“The truth is we are facing well-resourced challenges to our 5G leadership from every direction,” warned Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, in her opening statement before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “And, so far, we do not have a comprehensive national plan in place with a fully coordinated interagency response to meet that challenge.”
The 5G technology market is led by Huawei, a Chinese telecom company. That company is feared by top U.S. officials, who consistently warn of the risk of Huawei turning over data to the Chinese government. To beat out China, the government will have to rely on U.S. carriers to up their game.
“We cannot rely exclusively on defensive measures to solve or mitigate the issue, but rather we must shape the future of advanced telecommunications technology by supporting domestic innovation through meaningful investments, leveraging existing areas of U.S. strength, and bringing together like-minded allies and private sector expertise through a sustained effort over the course of decades, not months,” the senators wrote.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.