The President’s 5G public works project

It is election year and President Trump is signaling that he is well aware that priming the economic pump to quench America’s thirst for growth in the economy may buy him some political capital while helping his fellow Republicans in the Congress and maybe a few Republican governors and state house members retain their seats. Today’s latest political proposal: construction of a nation-wide 5G communications network by the federal government.

Reuters reported earlier today that among the Trump administration’s initiatives to address potential Chinese hacks of America’s communications systems is the construction of a 5G network by the U.S. government. According to the report, the idea is still being considered among lower ranking staff within the Administration and proposals may not get to the President for another six to eight months.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai was quick to respond this morning to the 5G proposal. Mr Pai argued in his brief statement that construction of this latest generation of high-speed communications network was best left to the market. Rather than going down a costly and eventually unproductive path, the chairman recommended that federal policy stay the course and focus on getting more spectrum, that portion of electromagnetic waves necessary for making calls and moving mobile data, into the commercial space.

Again, Mr Pai demonstrated that he is one Republican that attempts to be practical.

Progressives haven’t come out one way or the other …. yet. Progressives have thrown support in the past behind the idea that initiatives on the part of municipalities to build their own broadband networks, premised on the need for access to affordable broadband in the face of a lack of supply by large carriers such as AT&T and Comcast. On first blush, Mr Trump’s idea seems to be nothing but municipal broadband on steroids, just on a national level.

I doubt, however, that advocacy groups like Public Knowledge or Free Press are going to jump on the opportunity to provide Mr Trump with any favorable optics on this issue. The last thing progressives want to risk is giving the Administration any type of lifeline that would help pull Mr Trump’s popularity into the respectable zone.

Mr Trump could have used the opportunity to make a political play based on economic stimulus a nation-wide project like this could provide. He could have sold it like his version of the Hoover dam, especially in rural or mountainous areas where broadband companies have dared not tread because of sparser populations and rough topography. The Deplorables in flyover states and the Forgotten that inhabit the insular territories of the Caribbean and the Pacific would have warmed up to Mr Trump’s goody bag of 5G services by 2021,especially if the idea is sold as another job creator.

Mr Trump will have to sell broadband access providers on the idea of falling on their swords and taking one in the national interest. According to NCTA, broadband providers have invested $1.4 trillion in constructing and deployong broadband networks. The cable industry alone claims to have made a $275 billion investment in broadband infrastructure.  They are not about to tell investors that future returns on this investment are about to be pushed aside by a public works communications project designed to keep China from eavesdropping on two ex-college room mates talking recipes for peach cobbler and the latest #MeToo campaign.

Trump uses broadband to shore up and keep his rural base

During a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, President Donald Trump announced that he had signed an executive order designed to increase broadband access to 23 million underserved residents of rural America. The initiative involves recommitting to prior attempts to use federal facilities as sites for commercial wireless broadband facilities. Streamlining siting policy for broadband infrastructure by using federal property is seen as a way to “reduce barriers to capital investment, remove obstacles to broadband services, and more efficiently employ government resources.”

Mr Trump’s announcement was made at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention just prior to the President heading further south to attend the national football championship game in the undisputed capital of the south, Atlanta. The southern flavor of the event is further flavored by the two southern teams that are playing, the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. In my view, the convention, announcement, and attendance at the game is a great kickoff for the 2018 midterms, where getting out Mr Trump’s base will be crucial not only for the elections this November, but for the 2020 elections as well.

This may be the first of many salvos during the 2018 campaign. The connectivity and inclusion of rural America has also been the concern of Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  Mr Pai is from the Midwest and has placed closing the digital divide high on his priority list arguably being a close second in priority to overturning the Commission’s net neutrality rules, which were repealed last month. He fervently believes that high-speed broadband access to the internet can level the economic playing field for rural residents.

The connectivity issue goes beyond technology and economics. According to an article in The Washington Post, rural Americans feel deeply estranged from their fellow Americans that live in urban areas.  Almost seven out of ten Americans living in rural areas find their values out of sync with the values of big city dwellers. The federal government is perceived by rural America as favoring urban dwellers over them.

And it doesn’t appear that rural Americans want to connect with urban Americans, broadband connectivity or not. They appear satisfied by their own social fabric, comfortable in their culture, one that sees each of them looking out for the other.

Broadband connectivity may improve their ability to move goods to markets, but it may also further enhance internal rural bonds. And given Mr Trumps penchant for social media, especially Twitter, rural America will be able to maintain a connection with the only urban dweller that matters to them.