FCC's Pai proposes ban on telecoms gear bought from "security threat" firms

27 March 2018 | James Pearce


Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has unveiled new rules that would bar US telecoms companies from buying equipment using a government subsidy program if the kit is bought from a “company that poses a national security threat”.

Ajit Pai 160x186Though Pai did not specify any companies that would be on the banned list, legislators in the US have previously pointed to Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE as a potential concern.

The proposals would see the FCC place restrictions on its $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund which is earmarked for broadband deployments in underserved areas of the country. Operators who win contracts through the fund would be prohibited from buying equipment from hardware manufacturers who “pose a national security risk” to US communications services or the supply chain.

Pai said: ““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.  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.”

“That’s why I’m proposing to prohibit the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund from being used to purchase equipment or services from any company that poses a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or their supply chains.”

in a 20 March letter made public by Pai’s office, the FCC chairman told lawmakers of concerns about espionage threats from Chinese manufacturer Huawei. In the letter, Pai made it clear he intends to take action.

This follows legislative moves from senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio which would see the US government blocked from buying or leasing telecoms equipment from Huawei or fellow Chinese equipment firm ZTE.

Pai wrote in his letter, which was published in a blog on the FCC website: "On December 20, 2017, for example, a group of 18 Senators and Representatives wrote to me expressing their continued concern about the national security risks posed by certain Chinese communications equipment providers."

Pai's new proposals come just days after US PResident Donald Trump announced plans to impose $60 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports, with the technology sector named as a primary concern.

Trump signed an executive memorandum confirming the measures which follow an investigation in August 2017 that found China’s laws were harming US IP rights, innovation and technology development.