5G may seem like an unlikely battleground between China and the West. Yet the transition to 5G may mark the point, after decades of Chinese integration into a globalized economy, when Beijing’s interests diverge irreconcilably from those of the United States, the European Union, and their democratic peers. Because of a failure of imagination, Western powers risk capitulating in what has become a critical geopolitical arena.
According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don't even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline. Meanwhile, the physical medium of communication has shifted from telephone poles, visually linking individual homes, to the elusive air.
On Oct 16, as a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, I voted to block the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the country’s third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers. But I am only one of five votes at the agency, and a majority of my colleagues have already voiced their support for this transaction. On top of that, the Department of Justice recently reached an agreement with the carriers, giving them a green light to combine. The largest wireless merger in history is now headed toward approval.
In contrast to prior technological eras—marked by inventions such as the railroad, telephone, automobile, and television—the age of digital technology has progressed for several decades with remarkably little regulation, or even self‑regulation. This hands‑off attide needs to give way to a more activist approach. The greatest risk facing technology firms isn’t overregulation—it’s that government won’t do enough, swiftly enough, to address the technology issues affecting the world.