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Senators introduce $1B plan to step up America's 5G game

Audrey Conklin

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that aims to help the U.S. establish its footing in the race to 5G, which China is currently winning.

The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), would provide the U.S. with $1 billion in funding over five years through the Treasury's Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund to help advance the country's 5G technology capabilities.

"We're running out of time to address the security and competitiveness challenges posed by Chinese telecom companies," Warner tweeted Tuesday. "Every month the U.S. does nothing, Huawei moves closer to becoming the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous 5G provider, while Western companies and workers lose out."

Chinese tech giant Huawei has been a world leader in developing and advancing 5G technology -- which is believed to be about five times faster than even the fastest U.S. broadband communication -- in China. And there are few global alternatives as Apple and Japan's Samsung are falling behind in the 5G race compared to Huawei.

At least $750 million of the $1 billion would go toward 5G advancement while the other $500 million would go toward developing "trusted and secure" global wireless network equipment.

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"Widespread adoption of 5G technology has the potential to unleash sweeping effects for the future of internet-connected devices, individual data security, and national security," Rubio said Tuesday in a statement. "It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose."

Robert Fisher, Verizon's senior vice president of federal government relations, said Verizon looks forward to "working with Congress" with the measure.

"The security of America's communications networks is an essential component in ensuring our nation's economic leadership, now and in the future. It requires all of us -- the industry, the government and those who live and work here -- collaborating on efforts to build and maintain smart and secure communications," Fisher added.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced a $9 billion plan to deploy 5G in rural America on Dec. 4, saying the FCC "would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture."

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The FCC labeled Huawei a "national security threat" on Nov. 22 and banned it from a federal program that would have allowed U.S. businesses to receive subsidies for purchasing telecommunications equipment from Huawei, thus dealing a blow to Huawei's U.S. sales.

"When it comes to 5G and America’s security, we can’t afford to take a risk and hope for the best," Pai said in a written statement.

The label came after the U.S. charged the tech giant with bank fraud and violating sanctions against Iran. It also comes amid growing concerns with the extent of Chinese surveillance technology.

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President Trump in May blacklisted Huawei and issued an executive order barring U.S. companies from buying telecommunications products from the tech giant, citing national security risks, though the administration has loosened its restraints on the company in recent months.

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