According to a new proposal announced today by the FCC, they want to shut out companies “that pose a national security threat to United States communications networks or the communications supply chain.” If this proposal is approved, an upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will seek to not allow the use of FCC’s Universal Service Fund — which subsidizes those that bring broadband internet to rural regions of the US — for buying equipment and services from certain companies that are not located in the US.
“The money in the Universal Service Fund comes from fees paid by the American people, and I believe that the FCC has the responsibility to ensure that this money is not spent on equipment or services that pose a threat to national security,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement today.
The Wall Street Journal‘s sources say that the proposal is meant to limit the amount of equipment and services purchased from Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei. Huawei especially has been on the US government’s radar for quite some time now. Previously, CNBC reported that the six top intelligence chiefs, including those from NSA, CIA and FBI, had issued warning to US citizens against purchasing Huawei products. FB” Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee, “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments … to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”
The concerns come from the fact that China-based firms may be influenced by or could work alongside the Chinese government, exposing the US to state-sponsored cyberattacks or other data breaches. Huawei has said that it’s independent of the country’s government and does not pose a security risk to the US or any other country in the world.
“Threats to national security posed by certain communications equipment providers are a matter of bipartisan concern. Hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches — and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment — can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more,” Pai said in his statement today, which didn’t go so far as to name either Huawei or ZTE. “Although the FCC alone can’t safeguard the integrity of our communications supply chain, we must and will play our part in a government- and industry-wide effort to protect the security of our networks.”
If this proposal is passed, it would affect rather small, rural-based wireless and broadband providers in the US. The proposal is set to go for a vote during the FCC’s April 17th meeting.