The US Needs More Fiber and Industrial Policy

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Both will be crucial to 5G rollout, Susan Crawford says

SAN FRANCISCO — The United States needs to get over its fear of “nationalization” and “industrial policy” in order to maintain its position as a tech leader in a world moving toward 5G.

That’s the position staked out by Susan Crawford in recent article for Wired. Crawford writes that there is a serious flaw in U.S. policymakers’ belief that we should “see high-capacity communications as luxury goods, to be provided only where there is both demand and a high-margin business case.”

Aside from the recent controversy stirred by the leaked plan for “a US-controlled 5G network, with access to it leased to private carriers” is the motivation behind it: “China's potential 5G dominance required a domestic response.”

Crawford writes that the issue with America’s digital divide is that “without fiber running to homes and businesses, we won't be the place where these new ways of making a living have their start. Which means we won't be the purveyor to the world of the new services and products that will be powered by fiber.”

Additionally, “China, South Korea, and northern European countries take fiber policy much more seriously.” In fact, China has a national plan to facilitate “its goal of having 200 million new fiber optic connections to homes and businesses — at a time when the US has somewhere between 11 and 14 million such connections.”

The US has traditionally opted for a model in which “incentivized private companies” to build out communications infrastructure, but Crawford says the current situation means “rational behavior [from companies] has left us with the worst of both worlds: little competition and few upgrades to fiber.”

She also argues “Open access networks controlled by the government are safe longterm investments for both debt and equity purposes.

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