WASHINGTON — Federal regulators and major telecommunication companies pushed back on Monday against the idea of the government running a next-generation mobile broadband network as a way to address economic and security concerns related to China.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, said he opposed the notion. He argued that the federal government taking control of developing 5G networks, as the mobile technology is called, could hurt the private sector and the economy.
“The market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment,” Mr. Pai, a Republican, said in a statement. “Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”
US Telecom, the trade group that represents telecom and cable broadband providers, said any government-run plan would set back their industry.
“There is nothing that would slam the breaks more quickly on our hard-won momentum to be the leader in the global race for 5G network deployment,” Jonathan Spalter, chief executive of US Telecom, said in a statement.
The strong reaction was in response to reports that the Trump administration, on a recommendation from the National Security Council, was contemplating using federal money for a 5G network. The idea was first reported on Sunday by Axios, the online news organization.
The White House declined to comment on how seriously the idea was being considered or to share any details about it.
The Trump administration is becoming increasingly concerned about the economic and security threats posed by China’s development of mobile technology and 5G networks. Among the concerns is the ability of the Chinese government to spy on Americans and businesses.
The American government has long been suspicious of Huawei, a giant Chinese technology company that is behind much of the 5G network development in the country. This month, AT&T dropped its plan to carry a new phone model by Huawei. The company has declined to comment on its reasons for dropping the deal, though government officials have expressed concerns over security on those phones.
The introduction of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless technology, is expected to make browsing and streaming over mobile phones much faster. It is also expected to promote the adoption of what is known as the internet of things, where all sorts of machines and appliances — such as refrigerators, cars and health monitors — connect to the internet with nearly zero lag time.
Wireless companies said they had already started building their 5G networks and that any government-run network would be disruptive.
“Industry standards have been set, trials have been underway since 2016, and later this year AT&T is set to be the first to launch mobile 5G service in 12 U.S. locations,” AT&T said in a statement.
Analysts said nationalizing 5G networks would have major technical hurdles. They also said it could be difficult to sell politically, since the Trump administration and other Republicans have criticized big government projects.
“It does not appear likely to us that this recommendation could be accepted or evolve as a government program that would be implemented as described,” said Walter Piecyk, an analyst at BTIG Research in New York.
Meredith Baker, the head of the wireless industry lobbying group, CTIA, urged the government to maintain policies that promote the business plans of the private sector.
“The government should pursue the free-market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G,” she said.