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JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images

The telecom industry and policymakers of both parties quickly squelched a Trump administration proposal calling for the federal government to nationalize part of the U.S. wireless network after Axios published a leaked document outlining the idea.

Why it matters: The swift negative response significantly diminishes the chance of the plan — which White House officials actively discussed with others throughout January — getting off the ground. “Some of the commentary is, like, LOL kind of stuff,” said a congressional staffer, of the conversation around the memo. “The way it’s getting sent to me is more of an eye roll."

What they're saying:

  • “It should also trouble us, frankly, that the National Security Council can’t keep track of its own PowerPoints,” said Rep. Greg Walden, an influential Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees telecom issues.
  • White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Right now we’re in the very earliest stages of the conversation, there are absolutely no decisions made on what that would look like, what roll anyone would play in it — simply the need for a secure network."
  • White House officials also spoke anonymously to reporters to downplay the story. However, the National Security Council eventually confirmed to Recode's Tony Romm in a statement that "all options are under consideration" towards a broader goal of secure, nationwide 5G.
  • All five members of the Federal Communications Commission said the plan was a bad idea. Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that nationalizing a 5G network would be a "costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future."
  • They were backed up by the wireless carriers who have already invested heavily in developing 5G networks. “The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, who is the chief executive of the wireless trade group CTIA.

What we're hearing: Administration officials have been floating the idea of federal involvement in a 5G network for weeks in conversations with government agencies and companies.

  • At a meeting with industry representatives in mid-January, administration officials raised the general idea of the government taking some role in a 5G network for reasons related to China and national security, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
  • Discussions included staffers from some major wireless carriers including AT&T and Verizon, equipment makers like Ericsson and others interested in 5G like Google. The concept did not include the level of specificity contained in the memo, but met a chilly reception.
  • The broad idea was also raised in a meeting between former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and administration officials, one of the sources said.
  • The version of the memo published by Axios on Sunday was circulated to government agencies as recently as this month.

Yes, but: Some indicated they thought the memo’s broader arguments about America losing ground in the race for competitive networks had a point.

  • "This correctly diagnoses a real problem. There is a worldwide race to lead in [5G] and other nations are poised to win," tweeted FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, adding the proposal's conclusions missed the mark.

Why you'll hear about this again: The strong opposition has raised serious doubts about the proposal's feasibility. But it may come up today at a House hearing on digital infrastructure, as well as at Pai's monthly press conference.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

The billionaire balloon

Data: World Inequality Report 2022; Chart: Axios Visuals

The super-rich are getting stupid rich: New data out today shows the share of global wealth held by the richest slice of humanity swelled by almost a full percentage point during the pandemic.

Driving the news: The top 0.01% of individuals now hold about 11% of the world's wealth, compared to just over 10% in 2020, according to the "World Inequality Report 2022," written by Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Omicron gives a shot to boosters

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Vaccination rates have ticked higher since the discovery of the Omicron variant, CDC data shows.

By the numbers: The seven-day average for vaccinations in the U.S. reached about 1.8 million on Monday, up from an average of about 1.3 million a month ago.

Scoop: Over 200 papers quietly sue Big Tech

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Newspapers all over the country have been quietly filing antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms monopolized the digital ad market for revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states.

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