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Attorney General William Barr. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday dismissed a new White House-led effort to build 5G using homegrown equipment and said the government should instead consider investing in Nokia or Ericsson to counter the threat of Huawei dominating the next-generation networks.

The big picture: While the Trump administration broadly agrees about the need to develop a clear and cohesive 5G policy and keep Chinese equipment out of the forthcoming networks, there has been widespread disagreement about how to get there.

Driving the news: Barr, a former Verizon executive, said the U.S. must move quickly to make critical 5G-friendly airwaves available for commercial use, and must have a viable alternative supplier to Huawei.

He also poured cold water on recent reports of a new approach by the White House to 5G networks that see the government coordinate with U.S. companies to develop open software that could run on nearly any standard hardware.

  •  "The problem is that this is a pie in the sky," Barr said. "This approach is completely untested and would take many years to get off the ground, and would not be ready for prime time for a decade, if ever."

Details: Barr said instead of trying to build a whole new 5G architecture from scratch, the U.S. should work with Nokia and Ericsson.

  • They're the only companies that can compete with Huawei as 5G infrastructure suppliers, Barr said, but they lack the Chinese telecom giant's scale and the backing of a powerful country with a large market.
  • Nokia and Ericsson would be more viable competitors against Huawei with U.S. backing, Barr contended, through American ownership of a controlling stake, either directly or through a consortium of private companies.

What they're saying:

  • "Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a far more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power," Barr said in a speech at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. "We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach."
  • “The US Government has become consumed by politics when it comes to 5G and Huawei, there’s no need for so much uncertainty or worrying about catching up," Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss said. "If the U.S. wants 5G hardware and software developed by a U.S. or European company, the government should encourage companies to begin negotiations with Huawei to license our 5G technology."

Barr also seemed to be at odds with the Pentagon and the Commerce Department over the path forward on a stalled proposal to use airwaves for an industrial-focused 5G network.

  • Ligado, formerly known as LightSquared, has been pushing for years to be granted permission to use satellite frequencies to build a network for Internet of Things devices. But it's faced opposition from Defense and Commerce over fears its proposal would harm GPS signals.
  • Without naming any companies, Barr said putting the spectrum to commercial use could help speed 5G deployment and urged the Federal Communications Commission to resolve the issue.
  • Barr overlapped at Verizon with then-CEO Ivan Seidenberg, now the chairman of Ligado's board.

Context: The Trump administration's approach to 5G already has featured several inter-agency spats.

  • There was opposition both internally from the FCC and wireless industry on previous proposals to either nationalize 5G or build a privately run but government-backed wholesale network all players could use.
  • The FCC has also feuded with Trump administration agencies, including the Commerce Department, on plans to repurpose airwaves for 5G.
"It’s becoming clear as day that when it comes to planning for our 5G future, in this administration the right hand is not talking to the left. We have yet to coordinate our 5G strategy across the government."
— Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

One area of agreement: the importance to 5G development of midband spectrum, which sits in a sweet spot between low frequencies, which can go great distances but can't carry large volumes of data, and high frequencies that can pack in a lot of data but can't travel far.

  • Barr called it "critical" for the FCC to get a swath of airwaves known as the C-band to market through an auction in the next few months.
  • A few hours later, in a speech of his own, Chairman Ajit Pai announced the C-band auction would begin Dec. 8.
  • The FCC's deliberations over how to repurpose the airwaves, currently held by satellite companies, for 5G have been politically fraught.
  • Pai said his plan, up for a vote at the commission's next meeting Feb. 8, would make the satellite companies eligible for $9.7 billion in payments from winning bidders if they relinquish their airwaves ahead of schedule.

Go deeper

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

1 hour ago - Health

DeSantis to bar Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Friday he will issue an executive order "very soon" barring local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to school next month, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the U.S., triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.

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