Defending America’s Wireless Leadership

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Chair McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member Pallone, Chairman Latta, Ranking Member Matsui, distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to join you today to share my views on American leadership in wireless communications, which is a strategic imperative for the future of market democracy.

Having been in the policy trenches on these issues through many different Administrations and Congresses, I have special gratitude for the Committee’s bipartisan approach to these issues. The most important and enduring solutions to our national security threats come from bipartisan action. I am grateful to be a small part of that dialogue today.

My introduction to wireless communications was in 1998, when I was a 23 year old Army lieutenant stationed in Germany and got a Nokia cell phone. 2G wireless communications felt like science fiction in real life.

Those were heady days for Germany and Europe, beyond leading the world in wireless deployment. Market democracies had won the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Germany was reunified. Europe was more stable and peaceful than in any previous era of its history.

NATO was bringing in new allies – Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – and remaking its security posture to keep peace in the Balkans, rather than prepare for war with the Soviet Union.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin was elected president of the Russian Federation, and the United States and our allies put China on a clear path to join the World Trade Organization. This was the same year that the Serbian people overthrew Slobodan Milosevic’s government – thought to be the last dictatorship in Europe – and the reunified German government completed its move back home from Bonn to Berlin.

We thought all these developments meant that free markets, democracy, and the rule of law would win out once and for all over state-controlled economies and authoritarianism, and the future would bring previously unimaginable freedom, peace, and prosperity.

A lot has changed since then.

China is now arguably the most powerful authoritarian state in world history, and with China’s apparent acquiescence, Russia has launched the first full-scale war of conquest in Europe since World War II. Just before the invasion, Presidents Xi and Putin pledged a “friendship without limits” between China and Russia. The post-Cold War peace is now over.

The strategic security question of this century is whether the United States and our market democratic allies can set the world’s course, or if China, Russia, and other authoritarian regimes will predominate. That question underlies every other policy question we face. Will the future be one of freedom and innovation, or surveillance and control?

The U.S. approach to commercial wireless communications – and particularly 5G, the most secure wireless communications technology ever – will be central to answering that question.

The ubiquitously connected society driven largely by 5G wireless broadband – providing connected and autonomous vehicles, connected warehouses and logistics, and all the Big Data, AI, and advanced analytics that come with these and innumerable other such services – will be a crucial domain for both autocracies and market democracies in the 21st century. Remote and mobile connectivity is an essential component of a functioning modern society, and if leveraged for dynamism and innovation rather than authoritarian command and control, 5G wireless connectivity provides the foundation for solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

In contrast, the social control and information operations from abusive exploitation of ubiquitous connectivity is essential to the autocratic ambitions of China and Russia. Together, these two powers and their supplicant states seek global influence and domestic power through control of natural resources, technology supply chains, and information.

While Russia has no appreciable wireless communications capabilities, China has a plan that it is executing with the brutal efficiency of a dictatorship. China is allocating spectrum – particularly mid-band full-power spectrum that is crucial to 5G – to create a wireless ecosystem of tech national champions like Huawei that it can leverage to encircle the world with its “Digital Silk Road.” China sees an advantage in driving future 5G deployments into mid-band spectrum available commercially in China, such as the lower 3 GHz and 4 GHz bands.

It is crystal clear that China has its plan for the world’s wireless future. What is our plan?

The United States and our allies are the greatest source of technological innovation and economic vitality in human history. That is the reason we won World War II and the Cold War. And it is the reason we are presently leading the global 5G economy – even as we are hamstrung by disputes between agencies that have slowed 5G deployments and undermined the market certainty and investment that flows from a robust spectrum pipeline, and even as we have no spectrum auctions planned to allow our innovators to deliver more 5G services and applications.

Just as we formed NATO to protect market democracies after World War II, we now must apply to today’s technological environment the same commitment to principles of market dynamism, innovation, fair competition, democratic processes, rule of law, and human rights.

The world’s future will be determined by whether the U.S. model of competitive, expansive free market democracy can harness human ingenuity and progress to prevail over the restrictive structures of authoritarian governments. If we believe that people inherently crave freedom and equal opportunity to achieve their potential and that market diversity and competition are the beating heart of innovation, then we must pursue policies that leverage these ideals to our competitive advantage.

As the foundational, enabling technology upon which myriad technology innovations of our near and distant future rely, and as the most secure communications network in history, 5G networks will be a bellwether for how our societies – governments, businesses, citizens – fare in the face of authoritarian influences worldwide. Therefore:

We need more spectrum available for commercial use in the United States.

We need coherent government processes for approving commercial wireless deployments.

We need global harmonization of spectrum bands so the United States is not an island, leaving China and Huawei to deploy networks all over the world.

This is absolutely critical to our national security. If we get this right, we will ensure the economic and technological vibrancy that has always undergirded our overwhelming military strength and decisive edge in weaponry – particularly in a future in which AI, quantum computing, and cyber capabilities will predominate in military defense and force projection.

And in doing so, we will lead the free world in addressing the existential security threat emanating from the autocratic exploitation of technology, thereby securing the United States and our allies as market democracies.