US senators attached a funding commitment for next-generation 5G wireless technology to the National Defence Authorisation Act, but are still tussling over how much investment to make, Senator Mark Warner revealed on Tuesday.

The revelation sets up a likely lobbying battle in the coming weeks over how much policymakers should invest in 5G, a priority for the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill.

The provisions specifically would focus on spurring on a new software-based way of building the network, opening the traditional network interfaces in ways that would not rely on hardware from China or Europe.

Warner and colleagues from both parties introduced the USA Telecommunications Act in January to invest more than US$1 billion in this software-based approach to 5G and framed as a way to vie against China’s hardware titan Huawei.

“We were able to get our legislation into the NDAA in the next manager’s amendment,” the Virginia Democrat revealed Tuesday during a USTelecom event.

Trump administration support helped secure this development, according to Warner. Larry Kudlow, who heads the National Economic Council, has spent months talking about the merits of 5G virtualisation technology.

US policymakers have coalesced around trying to crack down on Huawei and ZTE over the last year. And on Tuesday, the FCC officially designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and barred US subsidy funds from flowing to companies that use their gear. FCC commissioners first proposed designating the two companies as threats in November.

Still, Warner also noted “bad news,” saying that Senate appropriators led by Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby have “dramatically, dramatically, cut back the amount of federal investment to the point that it’s almost minuscule”.

Warner explained the latest language would only allocate US$50 million for research and design and US$25 million for international development, which he called “puny at best”.

What is needed now, according to Warner, is industry pressure to try to drive these funding numbers higher. He told the USTelecom webinar participants that lawmakers will need CEOs to weigh in.

Senators are debating the chamber’s version of the defence bill on the floor now, with a goal of passing it by the end of the week. And Warner hopes to restore a bigger boost of funding when the Senate and House eventually hash out the differences between their competing defence policy bills.

“We’ve gotta make sure this legislation … not only gets passed but in any ultimate conference or any subsequent event that we push up these numbers to demonstrate that the United States is serious about taking this next leap forward,” explained Warner, a former telecoms executive and the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

What the US does on 5G now, he said, will set a model for how policymakers approach artificial intelligence, quantum computing and a host of other tech policy issues central to competition with China.

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