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National security officials in the Trump administration recently suggested that the government should pay to build a national 5G network and rent access to mobile carriers, according to a report Sunday.

An official with the National Security Council prepared a memo and presentation — obtained by Axios — that contrasted a nationalized 5G network with one build by the private sector.

The documents argued that allowing carriers to continue building toward 5G would take longer and cost more — an unacceptable result given China's potential threats to national security and its "dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure."

An updated NSC memo was reportedly less adamant about whether the government should build and own the 5G network, but officials maintained that some form of national effort is necessary to combat potential espionage as well as China's ambitions in self-driving cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies that will rely on 5G.

Security officials added that technology is a major component of China's push to expand its influence to developing nations.

"We have to have a secure network that doesn’t allow bad actors to get in," a senior administration official told Reuters. "We also have to ensure the Chinese don’t take over the market and put every non-5G network out of business.”

The presentation set a goal of establishing the network in three years' time and favorably compared a nationalized effort to the interstate highway building boom of the Eisenhower administration.

But nationalizing the construction of new wireless infrastructure — formerly handled by competing companies in the tech and telecom industries — would represent an unprecedented shift from the private sector to the government.

Several major carriers are already investing heavily in 5G and it’s unclear whether the effort would actually speed up network deployment — although the memo suggested that a national build-out could override local government restrictions on installation of new 5G infrastructure.

The proposal promptly drew criticism from both the wireless industry and other administration officials.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that the private sector is best positioned to promote innovation and that he opposes any federal proposal to "build and operate a nationwide 5G network."

"What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure," Pai said.

“The wireless industry agrees that winning the race to 5G is a national priority," added CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. "The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G."

An official told Axios that the administration could also consider forming a consortium of top wireless companies to collaborate on building out next-generation systems.

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