According to a CNN report, U.S. President Trump is allegedly pressuring the Department of Defence to give Rivada Networks, a company with several well-known Republican investors, what is basically a no-bid contract for extremely valuable mid-band 5G spectrum.
That’s a mouthful, but here’s the gist: Rivada currently has a “request for proposal” (RFP) that would bypass a competitive bidding process for the DoD’s 350 megahertz spectrum. The White House, CNN reports, has purportedly been working to fast-track that RFP.
What’s troubling about this is it appears that Trump is likely helping Rivada because he’s been encouraged to pressure the DoD into sharing its 5G network for commercial use by prominent Republicans, including Newt Gingrich. Karl Rove also reportedly told Trump to help Rivada out, according to CNN. Rove also happens to be an investor and lobbyist for Rivada. Peter Thiel — noted vampire, billionaire venture capitalist, and Trump supporter — is also an investor. In practice, this would give Rivada the power to lease that particular spectrum for commercial users, without being vetted or having to actually pay anything for it.
According to CNN, a recent auction for 70 megahertz of spectrum went for over $US4.5 ($6) billion. The 350 megahertz spectrum in question here would be worth billions more. CNN’s report anonymously quotes a senior administration official as saying that, if successful, this could be “the biggest handoff of economic power to a single entity in history.”
It would appear that outside of Trump’s cronies, no one is too happy with this move. CNN claims that Pentagon leaders, FCC officials, as well as both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have purportedly expressed opposition to the plan, citing concerns that the normal bidding process is not being observed and that it’s unclear that the DoD even has the authority to lease or sell off its spectrum in the first place. The House Energy and Commerce also earlier this month launched an inquiry into the matter, noting in a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that, technically speaking, “no government agency owns spectrum, and they question the Trump Administration’s political motives for making such inquiries.” The letter also requests more information regarding whether the Trump administration about a “potential RFP” related to the same mid-band spectrum in question, and whether Rivada, Rove, or Gingrich had ever been in contact with the NTIA.
Meanwhile, Rove, Gingrich, Rivada, and the White House have denied up and down that a competitive process is being subverted, or that anything untoward is happening.
As for why Trump is doing this at all — besides the fact that his supporters have been telling him he should — CNN cites sources close to the matter as theorizing it’s to “curry favour with Rove.” Rove, while a staunch Republican, isn’t a die-hard MAGA chud, yet has significant sway when it comes to fundraising and is influential in party politics. And you know, there’s an election in a couple weeks.
It doesn’t take a genius to do the maths that the entity that benefits most from this would be Rivada and its investors. Getting highly valued 5G mid-band spectrum for basically free, and then turning around and licensing that to businesses for profit would be incredibly lucrative. It is, as CNN points out, somewhat baffling that Rivada is being considered at all. In 2017, the company lost out on a contract to build out a nationwide public safety broadband network. While Rivada appealed that decision, a court ruling stated that not only did Rivada not have any experience in building or operating a nationwide wireless network, it didn’t have the financial resources to even take on the project.
This is the last thing 5G needs. False advertising, conspiracy theories, and political fear-mongering have already shrouded 5G rollout in confusion, even as tech giants and carriers wax poetic about the advances higher 5G speeds will bring. Using 5G as a political bartering chip is a terrible idea.