The United States has always been a leader in innovation and technology. It is because of American ingenuity that the world now benefits from airplanes, personal computers, e-mail, GPS — you name a modern technology, and Americans probably had a hand in its creation.
The strength of American innovation has been vital in our response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In March, our already rapidly digitizing economy was forced to go fully online almost overnight. The pandemic has underscored the importance of continuing our long tradition of developing new technologies, and also that we must maintain leadership over China in this space. The key to both is harnessing the power of 5G.
One may ask what is 5G technology, anyway? We’ve been hearing a lot about it recently, as companies begin to advertise their ability to operate on the 5G network. Any sort of wireless signal — including the radio, the Wi-Fi in our homes, and cellular service — relies on what are called spectrum waves. These waves are a finite resource, and most spectrum frequencies are owned by the government — but are currently not being fully utilized. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications in the United States, I have been proud to work with my colleagues to help free up this valuable resource for commercial use. Since taking office in 2017, President Trump and his administration have made certain spectrum bands available specifically for 5G.
After years of development, Americans now have access to 5G technology — well, some Americans do. The good news is that cellular networks and phone companies have worked diligently to create this technology and get it up and running in the United States. However, only one county in my district, Kentucky’s Second, has any access to 5G through cellular providers. It will most likely take awhile before we see a direct impact due to 5G in our daily lives. If you live somewhere like San Francisco, it may be sooner rather than later, but I’m fighting to ensure that Kentuckians have access to this technology as soon as possible. Because of the characteristics of some of the spectrum 5G uses, when it’s deployed outside major cities, we believe that 5G technology could give broadband access to rural communities that previously did not have reliable internet access — all the more reason to expand 5G in the Commonwealth and across United States.
Earlier this year, I joined Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) in introducing the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act to establish a grant program to help wireless companies across the country purchase equipment to deploy 5G technology. Unfortunately, many companies have previously relied on equipment from Huawei and ZTE — Chinese companies that are subsidized by their government and therefore cheap, but also therefore bringing the risk of interference from the Chinese government in our technologies. The USA Telecommunications Act, which passed out of our committee in July, would promote a more competitive market of more trusted equipment, so that American companies can be assured that their hardware is safe.
Additionally, I joined Ranking Member Walden, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation, and Internet Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) in introducing the Beat China by Harnessing Important, National Airwaves for 5G Act, or the Beat CHINA for 5G Act. We introduced this legislation earlier this month to free up additional spectrum for the use of 5G networks.
Any national conversation about infrastructure must include wireless and digital infrastructure. Our dependence on wireless technology will only increase with time, and we must ensure that the United States is equipped for it. 5G technology is exciting, and I stand ready to continue my work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that more Americans can access this new speed.
Representative Brett Guthrie serves as the Republican Leader on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.