F.C.C. Proposes More Restrictions on Chinese Telecom Equipment

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The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed further restrictions on purchases of telecommunications equipment that pose national security risks, strengthening its opposition to Chinese providers of 5G wireless and other technologies.

The F.C.C. voted unanimously to explore the proposal to ban U.S. companies from all future purchases of telecommunications equipment from companies like Huawei and ZTE of China. It also proposed the agency consider revoking prior authorizations of equipment purchases from the list of five companies deemed threats to national security.

The agency’s actions demonstrate the bipartisan push in Washington to beat back China’s stronghold on parts of the telecommunications and technology supply chain. President Biden has continued the Trump administration’s tough stance against China’s use of its government-connnected technology companies to surveil its own citizens and to stake a leadership role in cutting-edge technologies like 5G and automated manufacturing and driving.

The proposals set into motion a longer process that includes public comment and an eventual vote. Rural telecommunications companies that have relied on providers like ZTE for wireless technology have protested restrictions.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chair of the F.C.C., said the proposal was intended to secure U.S. networks.

“Insecure network equipment can undermine our 5G future, providing foreign actors with access to our communications,” she said. “This, in turn, may mean the ability to inject viruses and malware in our network traffic, steal private data, engage in intellectual property theft, and surveil companies and government agencies.”

Huawei criticized the agency’s proposal.

“Blocking the purchase of equipment, based on a ‘predictive judgment,’ related to country of origin or brand is without merit, discriminatory and will do nothing to protect the integrity of U.S. communications networks or supply chains,” a Huawei representative said.

The agency will begin to take public comments on the proposal and then go before the four commissioners for a final vote, probably in several weeks. It will need a majority of votes to pass and is expected to gain unanimous support.