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America is Either ‘In Very Good Shape’ or Has ‘Big Catch-Up’ in 5G Race with China

David Jelke

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Photo of panelists in one of two sessions on "Alleviating the Spectrum Crunch" by David Jelke

WASHINGTON, February 26, 2020 - Depending on who you asked in the Dirksen Senate Building, America is either “in very good shape” or has “a big catch-up to do” in the so-called 5G race against China.

Speaking at an event hosted by the American Consumer Institute, speakers also had different thoughts on how the United States can improve deployment in the wireless communications field.

Evan Swarztrauber, policy advisor to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, said he believes that the U.S. is doing better than one might expect.

“America is in very good shape,” he said. The elements that allowed America to “win” the 4G race will also bode well in the contest for 5G dominance.

He insisted that “modernizing” regulations and opening up certain wireless technologies to “commercial uses” will prove their worth in the American economic landscape.

Consequently, Swarztrauber disputed the idea that China has an advantage in building out 5G due to its authoritarian ability to bulldoze red tape. The country’s innovators and governors lack a spirit of innovation and a lightly regulated, healthy economy.

Swarztrauber’s fellow panelist Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institute disagreed. “We are in a race with China,” and “we have no reasonable response” to Huawei,” so the U.S. still has a big catch up to do.

Turner-Lee also highlighted issues posed by the digital divide. She recounted the story of rural kids in Alabama using iPads donated to them, but not being able to make use of them due to the town’s lack of broadband.

Consequently, the schoolchildren had to finish their homework before school on the stoop of their classroom, since there was no other place with coverage, said Turner-Lee.

She compared this story with reports that China has nearly completed full buildout of high-speed fiber-optic broadband, which some estimates have placed its buildout as high as 87 percent.

Swarztrauber countered that the buildout is meaningless if adoption for China’s 1.4 billion citizens is not practical.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn also gave remarks on spectrum issues.

“We need to officially reallocate mid-band spectrum” and “get this done as soon as possible,” she insisted. Blackburn also stressed that there should be a healthy balance between licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

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