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'A Win for Telecom': House Overwhelmingly Passes 5G Bill That Bars Consideration of Industry Nationalization

"This legislation looks to be a handout to big telecom."

The House on Wednesday passed a telecommunications bill with a unique section designed to reassure service providers.

The House on Wednesday passed a telecommunications bill with a unique section designed to reassure service providers. (Photo: PixaBay/cc)

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed three bills aimed at upgrading the U.S. telecommunications grid to 5G—including one resolution barring the consideration of nationalizing the industry. 

"This legislation looks to be a handout to big telecom, securing a rollout for a technology the industry has long been pushing, and which we do not yet fully understand in terms of potential risks," journalist Walker Bragman told Common Dreams. "The bill seems to be written in a way that provides assurances to the industry against future government encroachment as well as the possibility of future subsidies."

H.R. 2881, the Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020, contains a provision limiting the scope of that strategy by disallowing nationalization. 

"The Strategy shall not include a recommendation or a proposal to nationalize 5th or future generations wireless communications systems or infrastructure," the bill's Section 4, subsection 1 reads.

Introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), the bill calls for the administration to develop a strategy for 5G implementation across the country. Companion legislation in the Senate was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). 

The legislation passed the House in a vote of 413-3, with 14 members abstaining. 

The Secure 5G Act was one of three bills passed Wednesday aimed at upgrading communications infrastructure in the U.S.

According to The Hill:

The Promoting United States International Leadership in 5G Act and Promoting United States Wireless Leadership Act—would require the U.S. to become more involved in international standard-setting bodies around wireless networks, which have seen increased involvement from China in recent years. Together, the bills would direct the Secretary of State and a key telecom adviser to boost America's presence on communications panels around the world.

Unique to the Secure 5G Act, however, is the call for the White House to develop a strategy for Congress on implementation and the clear directive to the administration from Congress not to consider nationalization.

The president is barred by law from seizing private property under a Supreme Court case from 1952, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, where the Supreme Court ruled then-President Harry Truman could not engage in an act of "lawmaking"—seizing steel production facilities to supersede a strike action—without Congressional action. 

By contrast, Congressional approval or disapproval puts the administration in a less certain position on what the chamber wants, but nationalization would likely require returning to lawmakers to ask for clarity. Other recent infrastructure bills similar to the Secure 5G Act, like H.R. 1616, the European Energy Security and Diversification Act of 2019, do not have a specific provision on nationalization. 

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