After the COVID-19 crisis ends, an enterprising business student could make quite a name for themselves by looking at the role the U.S. telecommunications industry played in helping Americans through the pandemic. It’s quite a story and it needs to be told.
Consider where we’d be if it weren’t for the phone, cable and satellite companies keeping us connected. The rapid migration online included everything from the classroom to the doctor’s office, demonstrating America’s resilience and resourcefulness. The internet is where we’re going to see our families, order vital supplies, stay up to date on the latest advisories and remain plugged into civilization.
It’s a good thing the internet is an American product, governed largely by American ideals. If, say, the Chinese were in charge, the official response to the crisis might have restricted access to the web or shut it down completely.
However, in the face of this threat, mobile devices will also play just as important a role as the networks that connect them. Because the vast majority are manufactured elsewhere, it will be up to the U.S. International Trade Commission to preserve access to mobile devices and smartphones other than those offered by Chinese companies. Whether the ‘net remains free and open depends on many factors.
The People’s Republic of China has an unfair advantage in the global race to 5G as it has, through its Huawei subsidiary, developed technologies it is trying to force the rest of the world to adopt. And if they end up dominant, it would be a clear and present danger to the future of global commerce and the free flow of information.
The Commerce Department is in the process of finalizing regulations aimed at limiting American firms’ sale of chips to Huawei, and the Justice Department has charged them with conspiracy. But that’s only a start.
What’s needed is a government-wide effort to blunt the impact of Huawei’s global efforts to make it the provider of choice for the rest of the world’s 5G needs.
American consumers must maintain their access to the latest smartphones and tablets manufactured by companies other than Huawei. But an obscure Irish company called Neodron, which has recently filed patent complaints with the ITC, could make that difficult, if not impossible.
Neodron, which is backed by some of the same people who brought us the mortgage securities financial crisis, has filed two complaints with the ITC alleging that virtually every non-Chinese smartphone and tablet maker – Apple, Amazon, Motorola, LG and Samsung, among others – is infringing on patents related to touchscreens. And, since the Commission’s sole remedy would be an exclusion order, the result would be a ban on the import of all devices found to be infringing on the patents at issue.
That means over 90 percent of all smartphones and tablets would be banned from the U.S. market. Virtually the only device manufacturers left would be Chinese companies.
The U.S. government has no business giving away to our potential enemy the kind of strategic advantage we could never get back. China is out to dominate every aspect of world economy. We’d be foolish to let that happen.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom.