Secure 5G connectivity in the U.S. is needed to protect governments, enterprises and consumers from cyberattacks, but there have been “absolutely no decisions made” about how that goal will be achieved, the White House said yesterday after a proposal to create a nationalized 5G network was criticized throughout the telecom industry.

“Right now, we are in the very earliest stages of the conversation; there [have been] absolutely no decisions made on what that would look like [or] what role anyone would play in it,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during yesterday’s White House press briefing.

Sanders was asked about the notion of a nationalized 5G network after Axios reported late Sunday that the administration is considering the creation of such a nationwide system, citing a memorandum and a draft presentation from “a senior National Security Council official.” Sanders did not deny the veracity of the memorandum and presentation but downplayed consideration of the proposal.

“Look, there are a lot of things on the table,” Sanders said. “Again, these are the very earliest stages of the discussion period, and there has been absolutely no decision made, other than the fact [that there is] a need for a secure network.”

Indeed, the need to enhance digital security is a theme repeated throughout the memorandum and slides from the NSC official that were published by Axios.

“The President unveiled his National Security Strategy on Dec. 18, 2017,” the memorandum states. “In it, he portrayed the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Embedded within the strategy was a short-but-powerful phrase: ‘We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide.’ This was not an afterthought, nor was it an additional item to answer to some constituency. It was meant to be foundational.”

While the powerful U.S. military provides superior protection to its citizens and companies in the “physical domain” of land, sea and air, it is not equipped to provide similar assurances in the “information domain,” according to the memorandum. This promises to become a greater issue as the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves in association with 5G, because IoT solutions are expected to include sensors—many of them lacking appropriate security—that could “exponentially” increase cyberthreats.

“On the current trajectory, the 5G world will offer opportunities to use the useful sensors and tools on the network as weapons.,” the memorandum states.

“That is why the network must be built from the ground up with security and resiliency in mind. Not only must the network continue to function in the event of physical attack, it must repel attacks to personal and commercial data on a daily basis. Once built, this capability must be shared with democratic allies to ensure they remain viable and strong economic and security partners to support the free world.”

Throughout the memorandum and presentation, the primary concern expressed is activity by China, which is cited as “the dominant malicious actor in the information domain,” “is currently poised to lead the global deployment of 5G” and “has assembled the basic components required for winning the AI [artificial intelligence] arms race,” according to the presentation and memorandum.

“Data is the oil of the 21st century, and China has built the world’s first strategic reserve. Complete elimination of privacy standards, combined with a strong firewall, has enabled China to transform its ‘great firewall’ into a ‘great ocean’ of data. The current algorithm battles are slowly drifting in China’s favor, as companies like Google build AI research centers inside China’s information sphere, and world-class scientists mine the data (ours and theirs) without restraint … This AI will be harnessed to power a global social credit system currently being rolled out in China to ensure individual and corporate compliance with CCP edict through all levels of society.

“Building a nationwide, secure 5G network sets the condition for future success in the information domain. Not building the network puts us at a permanent disadvantage in the information domain.”