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Pallone & Doyle Question Legality, Political Motivations Behind DoD’s Inquiry into Nationalized 5G Spectrum

Oct 9, 2020
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) launched an inquiry today into the Department of Defense’s (DoD) apparent moves to own and operate a national 5G network and lease federal spectrum for commercial purposes. The inquiry comes after DoD released a Request for Information (RFI) that seeks input from industry on these topics, and multiple press reports that the timing of the RFI could be politically motivated. The lawmakers wrote to both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) expressing their concern and requesting information.

In their letter to the NTIA, the two Committee leaders wrote that they fear DoD’s RFI represents an attempt to usurp NTIA’s authority. They also point out that two of the questions DoD asks in its RFI – how DoD can “own and operate 5G networks for its domestic operations,” and whether DoD “should consider spectrum leasing as an alternative to reallocation” – demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. Pallone and Doyle wrote that no government agency owns spectrum, and they question the Trump Administration’s political motives for making such inquiries.

“We have heard reports that the suddenness of this request and the short turnaround timeframe have been prompted directly by senior White House Officials. We have also heard reports that the White House has instructed DoD to proceed immediately to a Request for Proposal (‘RFP’) in order to move forward toward a national 5G network,” wrote Pallone and Doyle. “According to press accounts, several political operatives or lobbyists with close ties to President Trump or his staff – including Karl Rove, Peter Thiel, Newt Gingrich and Brad Parscale – are pushing for the seismic shift in spectrum policy contemplated by the RFI. These reports also suggest these Republican operatives are working for the benefit of a specific company, Rivada, Inc., which has long championed a national network that Rivada would construct and operate using its sharing technology.”

In their letter to GAO, the lawmakers express similar concerns, writing that any attempt by DoD to construct, operate or maintain a commercial communications network or lease government spectrum to commercial entities without the express permission of Congress could be unlawful. Pallone and Doyle have requested that GAO conduct a complete legal analysis.

“We write to request that the Government Accountability Office evaluate whether the Department of Defense has the legal authority to construct, operate, or maintain a commercial communications network or lease its assigned electromagnetic spectrum (‘spectrum’) to private entities to provide commercial communications service,” wrote Pallone and Doyle. “We believe DoD has limited or no legal authority to do so.”

In addition to their request that GAO conduct a complete legal analysis, they also ask a series of questions pertaining to DoD’s legal authorities. 

The two Committee leaders likewise requested that NTIA respond to a comprehensive set of questions, including:

  • Has anyone from the White House or the Executive Office of the President contacted NTIA about the RFI?
  • Has anyone from the Trump campaign, including but not limited to Brad Parscale, contacted NTIA about the RFI?
  • Have Karl Rove, Peter Thiel, Newt Gingrich or anyone from Rivada, Inc., contacted NTIA about the RFI?
  • Does NTIA have any knowledge of an RFP already being drafted by DoD?
  • All five FCC Commissioners spoke out against the idea of a nationalized 5G network at a recent Energy and Commerce Committee hearing – is that also NTIA’s position?

Their letter to NTIA is available HERE, and the letter to GAO is available HERE.