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FCC guns for Huawei, ZTE in US comms network protection proposal

US comms regulator proposes regulations that could see technology from Chinese suppliers such as ZTE and Huawei removed from US comms networks

US communications regulator the FCC has ratcheted up the pressure on the leading Chinese technology suppliers with new proposals ostensibly designed to protect US communications networks from national security threats.

In a proposal to colleagues that will be voted on at the FFC’s 19 November, FCC chairman Ajit Pai presented a two-part proposal that would fundamentally prohibit recipients of the regulator’s Universal Service Funds (USF) from using such money to purchase equipment or services from companies that were perceived to be a risk to the US. Pai cited Huawei Technologies and ZTE in this regard, slamming them as “untrusted suppliers”.

In a further potential blow to the tech firms, it would also propose requiring certain carriers receiving USF funds, known as eligible telecommunications carriers, to remove existing equipment and services from designated companies from their networks.

In an olive branch to operators in what could be a hugely costly scenario, Pai proposed to seek comment on how to provide financial assistance to these carriers to help them transition to more trusted suppliers.

The draft item would also adopt an information collection to help assess the extent to which eligible telecommunications carriers have deployed equipment at risk in their networks as well as the costs to remove and replace it. Again, he directly cited Huawei and ZTE.

“When it comes to 5G and America’s security, we can’t afford to take a risk and hope for the best,” said Pai. “We need to make sure our networks won’t harm our national security, threaten our economic security, or undermine our values.”

“The Chinese government has shown repeatedly that it is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do just that. And Chinese law requires all companies subject to its jurisdiction to secretly comply with demands from Chinese intelligence services.

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“As the United States upgrades its networks to the next generation of wireless technologies – 5G – we cannot ignore the risk that that the Chinese government will seek to exploit network vulnerabilities in order to engage in espionage, insert malware and viruses, and otherwise compromise our critical communications networks.”

The move comes hot on the heels of a letter sent by US President Donald Trump to delegates at  the ITU’s World Radiocommunications  Conference revealed that the US intended to deploy 5G networks and services rapidly but that the US would cooperate with “like-minded nations is promoting security in all aspects of 5G networks worldwide”.

It added that the US would make 5G “a technology for benefiting people’s lives in opposition to those who use 5G as a tool to expand control of their own citizenry and sow discord among nations”.

ZTE has yet to offically respond to Pai’s remarks, but for its part, Huawei said: “In 30 years of business, Huawei has never had a major security-related incident in the 170 countries we operate. Banning specific suppliers based on country origin will do nothing to protect America’s telecommunications networks.

“Today’s proposal, released by the FCC chairman, only impacts the broadband providers in the most unserved or underserved rural areas of the US. Such action will further widen the digital divide; slowing the pace of economic development without further securing the nation’s telecommunications networks.

The FCC is aware of alternative measures that could solve both issues – continuing to enhance connectivity in those areas while actually improving the security of US networks – but Chairman Pai is choosing to also ignore what is considered best practices around the globe.”

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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