The alt-right has found itself a new baseless conspiracy, this time involving the emergence of next-generation wireless broadband networks.
On its surface, there’s not much that’s controversial about the nation’s efforts to deploy fifth generation (5G) wireless networks. While the 5G standard isn’t even completed yet, once these networks arrive (probably around 2020) they should provide consumers with notably faster speeds, lower latency, and better overall connection quality. Assuming you can afford it.
The most controversial aspect of these deployments to date had been the way that ISP marketing departments tend to unrealistically overhype 5G as a miraculous cure-all for all of the nation’s broadband connectivity issues, instead of a natural evolution of existing networks.
That all changed recently when a leaked PowerPoint deck and memo produced by a senior National Security Council official indicated that Trump advisors had at least fleetingly eyed a proposal to nationalize America’s looming 5G networks. The report notes the proposal was considered as part of a conversation about shoring up the nation’s cyber-defenses.
"The best way to do this, the memo argues, is for the government to build a network itself," the report states. "It would then rent access to carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile."
After the leaked proposal resulted in all manner of hand wringing in the media and among political pundits, the Trump administration was quick to state that the proposal was dated and never seriously considered. Trump’s own FCC shot down the idea, and the official behind the memo has already resigned from the administration and returned to the Air Force.
In an ideal world, having a nationalized network that ISPs that come in and compete to operate isn’t as horrible or crazy an idea as the resulting media hysteria would have you believe. FCC studies have suggested that a government-built core network that ISPs then provide service over (aka “open access”) often results in lower prices and better service thanks to competition.
And while there would absolutely be privacy and security concerns with the creation of such a government-operated network here in the surveillance-obsessed States, there’s no indication that such a network was ever seriously considered in the first place. And building such a nationalized network at this point in 5G’s life cycle borders on the impossible.
Construction and development of 5G networks is already well underway. Billions have already been spent on numerous international efforts to develop the standard, set aside necessary spectrum, and bring 5G to market by 2020. Suddenly nationalizing these efforts would require seizing industry assets and spectrum, setting 5G back years.
Carriers like AT&T and Verizon (and the think tanks they pay to parrot their policies) utterly loathe the idea, since they’ve already spent billions on the necessary spectrum and 5G network trials. And with the House and Senate slathered with telecom campaign contributions, such an effort had a snowball’s chance in hell of ever actually materializing.
Even the most progressive of U.S. leaders have yet to seriously propose “nationalizing” the nation’s 5G networks. The proposal, at the end of the day, was little more than an offhand pipe dream by a member of Trump’s National Security Council. One apparently not well versed with the economic and political realities of the telecom market.
As such, the entire story, based entirely on a dated and discarded proposal by one individual, probably deserved about a quarter of the attention it received.
"This would create a system by which deep state could backdoor in whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted"
Yet the story has now found new life among alt-right conspiracy theorists who pretty clearly have a less-than-flimsy understanding of how these networks would actually work.
Gateway Pundit, for example, published a piece recently proclaiming that the quest to nationalize 5G networks was a nefarious plan being driven by Google and the “deep state.” A cornerstone of this conspiracy rests upon recent reports that Eric Schmidt “discussed 5G with at least one West Wing official” sometime during the last few months.
“The admission that they would use this new infrastructure to go after those who ‘sow division’ sounds an awful lot like they would be planning to target political dissidents, in a time when Facebook and other tech giants have already been accused of attempting to silence conservatives,” the website “informed” its readers.
The report was quickly repeated by those eager to believe that Google was part of a vast web of a diabolical intent to socialize the internet and erode consumer privacy; it even got the alt-right cartoon treatment, which is embedded above.
Jack Posobiec, conspiratorial mouthpiece for the gullible, was quick to post a breathless and indignant Periscope video where he too claimed Google was leading the charge for the creation of a “socialized” nationwide wireless network.
“Why does Google have anything to say about the 5G plan,” Posobiec pondered. “Because Google isn’t usually an internet service provider, they’re considered an edge provider...they provide you with Gmail, they provide you with YouTube, but they’re not providing you with the infrastructure behind it.”
That’s already patently false.
Google of course has plenty of reasons to be interested in 5G networks and the regulation of them, given it’s conducting numerous trials across a wide variety of spectrum, including millimeter wave. Google’s also looking to wireless as a cheaper, more flexible alternative to the high costs of deploying fiber to the home under its Google Fiber division.
Despite the fact the original Axios report offers absolutely no indication Schmidt’s meeting had anything to do with the 5G privatization plan, Posobiec stumbles forward with claims that the former CEOs presence at the White House was proof of Google spearheading the entire, unholy cabal.
“This would create a system by which deep state could backdoor in whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and quite frankly this is something where NSA wouldn’t need to have a partnership with the telephone company,” Posobiec warned viewers.
Which again, might be scary if such a nationalized 5G network was something that had even a remote chance of actually happening. But like AT&T and Verizon, Google has very little interest in actually seeing such a network materialize, since building it would involve seizing Google network assets and dictating how the company does business. There is no evidence whatsoever that Google had any role in the original proposal, which, again, was quickly dismissed.
Google is, however, interested in ensuring government regulation of 5G networks doesn’t disrupt its attempts to use wireless to help drive Google Fiber into additional markets. So while there’s plenty to criticize Google for on numerous fronts (like its apathy toward protecting net neutrality), spearheading a nationalized 5G surveillance cabal isn’t among them.
Yes, Google’s power does raise all manner of other, legitimate privacy concerns. Yes, Google’s dedication to consumer welfare is looking a little frayed around the edges these days as it shifts from disruption to legacy turf protection. But no, Google doesn’t want the U.S. government seizing telecom industry assets in a ham-fisted attempt at cyber-security.
The irony is there’s plenty of very real-yet bonkers privacy-related issues for alt-right figures to get upset about, from the fact we can no longer tell where companies like AT&T end and the NSA begins, to ongoing efforts by the government to demonize encryption and backdoor the ‘net, putting everybody’s privacy and security at risk.
Instead, folks like Posobiec have created a profitable cottage industry based on pulling fabricated concoctions wholesale out of their posteriors, breathlessly fanning unnecessary hysteria, and pushing a universe of conspiracies with only a fleeting, tangential connection to anything vaguely resembling reality.