Updated Mar 4, 2019

Behind the scenes of the Trump campaign's 5G network plan

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

People close to Trump and a politically connected private company have, for months, been laying out the broad outlines of the plan to create a national wholesale 5G network in op-eds and tweets — which the Trump campaign was then forced to walk back, following widespread confusion within the administration.

The big picture: Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale said last June that it would be an "open wholesale market with a privatized company that isn't a carrier," in his "personal opinion." Last month, he tweeted again about the need for a "wholesale" network.

  • Declan Ganley, the CEO of Rivada Networks, has been pushing for the same concept.
  • “Decisive action building a public-private partnership in the near term demands that we make shared spectrum available for a carrier-neutral, wholesale-only, nationwide 5G network to be built in the next two to three years across the entire country,” wrote Newt Gingrich in a Newsweek op-ed last month.

Rivada could stand to benefit financially from the new network, but Parscale — through a Trump campaign spokesman — and Gingrich, have both said they have no financial stake in the idea.

  • "I refuse to accept any money on 5G because I believe it is the biggest national security challenge we face," Gingrich told Axios in a text message. "We are currently losing. A Huawei-dominated world communication system will be an enormous defeat and a deadly threat to our survival."

In a phone conversation with Axios, Rivada spokesperson Brian Carney said that the company had spoken with players in Washington about its idea — but said he was not aware of conversations that had taken place with Parscale or the Trump campaign on the subject.

  • "There's no financial relationship between us and Newt. Full stop. Period," Carney said. "We have spoken to him about this stuff, because he came to think that we had a pretty good idea for how to deal with this thing."
  • Ganley himself weighed in, saying on Twitter that "as best as I can tell there’s no distance between The White House & the Campaign because the whole 'Nationalisation' angle was & more than ever remains a Red Herring."

Here's how the public conversation evolved:

  • January 2018: Axios reported that a senior National Security Council official circulated a proposal to effectively nationalize the fifth-generation of wireless technology, sparking condemnation from across government and industry.
  • February 2018: Rivada Networks Ganley proposed a shared 5G wireless network in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
  • June 2018: Parscale tweeted that a "great 5G network, in my personal opinion, consists of an open wholesale market with a privatized company that isn't a carrier. Government doesn’t own or operate it but does provide the spectrum. An open bidding process for bandwidth! No more dead spots!"
  • Feb. 19 and 22: Gingrich published op-eds supportive of a national wholesale 5G network.
  • Feb. 21: President Trump tweeted that he wants "5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible."
  • Feb. 21: Parscale tweeted that a "5G wholesale market from underutilized spectrum would drive down prices and improve rural availability."
  • March 1: Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the president's campaign, told Politico that a "5G wholesale market would drive down costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved."

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