May 10, 2019

Commerce official resigns amid 5G tensions

Federal staffers were caught off guard Thursday by the abrupt departure of David Redl, the Trump appointee running the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce Department's telecom policy shop.

Why it matters: Officials are under intense pressure to make more airwaves available for the private sector to build 5G networks. Divvying up government airwaves amid the "race" to beat China has led to spats between agencies.

The intrigue: In an email to colleagues, Redl said it was with "a heavy heart" that he announced his resignation. Three sources familiar with the situation said his departure comes after disagreements about 5G policies.

  • Redl and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai were at odds over the auction of millimeter-wave spectrum due to NOAA and NASA concerns about possible interference with sensors used for weather data collection. (Politico reported details last month.)
  • Internally, there was friction between Redl and Earl Comstock, deputy chief of staff to Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as tensions surrounding the administration's 5G announcement last month, two sources said. (NTIA declined to comment.)

What's next: Diane Rinaldo is now the acting NTIA administrator.

Go deeper: Read Axios' deep dive on the 5G future.

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