Chinese Telecoms Hit Hard in Judiciary 5G Hearing

Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he wished U.S. allies could view a copy of Tuesday's hearing on 5G cybersecurity to see the uncommon bipartisan agreement that Chinese technology is a threat to the safety and security of the Internet of everything next-gen wireless broadband will drive.

The hearing's first panel featured Christopher Krebs, director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Department of Homeland Security, and Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy, at the State Department.

They said the key is for companies and countries to take a "risk-based" assessment of their 5G network buildouts, an assessment that would almost certainly exclude Chinese telecoms.

The good news, those officials suggested, was that the four major U.S. wireless carriers had agreed not to employ technology from Huawei, ZTE and other potential security threats. Strayer said he was confident that Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson could handle the job.

The bad news, or at least some of the bad news, was that our allies, because of the relative cheapness of that Chinese tech, had made no such promises, though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been impressing on Britain that using that Chinese tech will make sharing intelligence info with the country problematic.

Related: FCC's Pai to Senate: Huawei is National Security Threat

Their message to those allies was that lower short-term cost was trumped by security concerns and the long term cost of dealing with compromised equipment and software patches, or the cost of trying to get the tech out of their systems if the threat of hacking, attacking, spying and IP theft from China bears out, as they suggested it will given the forced symbiosis among company, country and Communist party.

Graham tried to get the officials to state, plainly, that the U.S. policy with its allies should be that we won't share info or connect to their networks if they include Chinese telecom tech in their 5G networks.

They would not go quite that far, but likely only because of the practical and diplomatic consequences of such a binary choice. Asked by Graham if the U.S. goal was to put China's 5G effort out of business, Strayer said, diplomatically, that that was "not our goal," and Krebs said that was not "an economic reality."

Graham pressed on. He said since everyone was in agreement that Chinese companies were under orders to work with the Chinese government and intelligence agencies--they were--and since they were in agreement that having those companies' technology in our 5G networks was a threat to intellectual property, to network security, to national security and even to life and limb--they were--that there was no way in hell" China tech should pass muster.

Among the takeaways from the hearing was that DHS had been talking with rural carriers about their particularly issues with disentangling from the cheaper Chinese tech that has allowed them to manage costs while trying to keep up with the bigger players.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) agreed there is bipartisan alarm over the threat by Huawei, and expressed surprise allies did not see the same risk. He said they have known about the threats for years.

Krebs said the U.S. has to do a better job of impressing on them the true cost, not just financial, of using that connect. Krebs called it a global supply chain challenge. He said supply chain risk management is the new cybersecurity issue.

Blumenthal said that even if there were an economic advantage, it is outweighed by the security threat. But Krebs said the U.S. may have bought up all the supply options, so some of our allies don't have an option. "It is a bad day for China in this hearing room," Blumenthal said, "but only in this hearing room because our pounding the table is not having an effect."

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said that while they can disagree with allies over allowing software back doors, a bigger problem was China's dominance on 5G standards-setting processes, in effect building the entire House.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she would be introducing a bill that deals with the supply chain for the 5G network. She also put in a pitch for freeing up more mid-band spectrum.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.