The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday voted to begin crafting regulations designed to keep telecom companies designated as national security risks from receiving federal dollars.
The commission unanimously adopted a proposal to take public comment on banning allocations from the $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund from going to those companies. The measure was introduced amid increased concern about efforts by Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE to gain a foothold in the U.S. market.
The nation’s intelligence community previously expressed concern about Americans using devices made by companies with close ties to a foreign government, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai introduced the proposal by noting that communications equipment, including routers and switches, could also be vulnerable to espionage.
“While the FCC alone can’t safeguard our networks from these threats, it does have an important role to play in addressing this problem,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.
The proposal approved this week also seeks comment on the costs and benefits of a potential ban, the types of equipment and services that should be included under the rule and how best to implement and enforce it.
Although the industry has broadly shared officials’ concerns about the security of telecom infrastructure and devices, some small and rural carriers — such as those likely to receive USF funding — have partnered with Huawei to deploy their networks, citing the company’s equipment prices and service. Company officials last month expressed concern that a ban could exacerbate their already difficult business models.
The Competitive Carriers Association, which represents many of those carriers, said the measure “injected uncertainty at a time when carriers need stability.”
“Any proposed solution should be cognizant of significant economic hardships on many operators, but also, and perhaps most concerningly, must consider rural and low-income consumers’ choice of viable, affordable devices, in an already very limited market,” CCA President and CEO Steve Berry said in a statement.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added that the FCC should be more active in securing the nation’s communications, particularly in light of reports that the Department of Homeland Security found cell-site simulators in Washington, D.C., last year.
“If these reports are true, someone needs to explain how foreign actors are transmitting over our airwaves without approval from this agency,” Rosenworcel said.
Filed Under: Industry regulations