The Wall Street Journal reported today that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, in a speech to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, wants the government to auction off two bands of spectrum to help accelerate the U.S.’s deployment of 5G services.

Some comments:

It appears there was a leaked FCC memo suggesting China was ahead of the U.S. in developing 5G services, and one recommendation was that the Federal Government should build a nationwide, network to counter this. This recommendation was supposedly backed by Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding, a former Defense Department attaché in China who joined the National Security Council in 2017.

Thankfully Pai has dismissed this idea but clearly there’s pressure for him to act, and the spectrum auction appears to be one counter measure.

The U.S. does have one distinct disadvantage. Our decentralized government, with its state and local government officials and utilities, has usually held telecom companies hostage when it comes to deploying new infrastructure.  These new 5G networks will require a boatload of additional small cells (radios)- many to be mounted on light poles and other city/utility assets. This approval process, which varies city by city, is tedious, laborious, time-consuming, expensive…you get the point.

As FierceWireless reported: “But the small-cell market has been stymied by zoning and permitting headaches. Transmitters are often placed on new poles that can be 120 feet high or taller, and confusion abounds regarding public rights-of-way. Those concerns have raised the ire of residents, community groups and municipalities seeking more control over small cell deployments in their markets.”

CTIA has championed a streamlined 5G  local approval process, but it’s not clear how much traction this is getting. If the Feds want to help, they should look to aggressively back CTIA’s agenda and incent local communities to streamline these processes, instead of attempting to build a nationwide network.