American leadership in 5G technology would appear to be right in President Trump’s sweet spot: It pits the U.S. against China, ‘America First’ economics over globalism, and free markets vs. Big Tech. But Trump’s unorthodox leadership style and eclectic policy mix have open market advocates worried he may embrace a plan for nationalized 5G during his final days in office.

At issue is a valuable, 5G-friendly swath of the broadcast spectrum currently controlled by the Department of Defense. For years, Washington’s been debating how to get some of that bandwidth out of the Pentagon and into the commercial space. The Defense Department is prevented by law from profiting from it, and it’s technologically tricky for them to share share it with the private sector. So the assumption was the federal government would hold another spectrum auction and sell off part of that mid-band spectrum capacity.

Enter Rivada, a tech company with a plan to “wholesale” the spectrum on behalf of the government, and a lot of influential political friends. Among them are George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a close Trump ally. Also on board, one of the biggest of Big Tech players, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

On Monday, Gingrich was one of eight Trump loyalists named to the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon on policy issues.

Rivada argues that direct government involvement is the best way for the U.S. to compete with China. Their opponents, including all five members of the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. wireless industry and free-market economists like Trump advisor Larry Kudlow, vehemently disagree. At stake, they say, is American leadership in the global tech sector.

“Wireless networks are the foundation on which inventions are being created,” tech expert Roger Entner, Founder of Recon Analytics, told InsideSources. “We were the first with 4G and now all the cellphones are using American operating systems. That’s no accident. The biggest apps around the globe are American apps. All that happened here.”

And the competition for 5G is more vital and even more fierce, Entner says. To maintain that leadership, American companies need wider access to more of the spectrum, not a wholesaler acting as a market-control chokepoint for the federal government.

Last Spring, President Trump appeared to embrace that view, but has more recently given off mixed signals.  In October, a group of 19 U.S. Senators, led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, sent Trump a letter urging him to reject the “government wholesaler” model.

“Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race,” the senators wrote.

Rivada Senior Vice President Brian Carney tells InsideSources: “Rivada strongly opposes increased government involvement in the wireless industry, as we have stated repeatedly. We also oppose the current regulatory capture of the government by the wireless cartel.”