Congress Bans FCC Licenses to Suspect Tech

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

In a move that is a big blow to some big tech companies, Congress has voted to ban new equipment licenses for Chinese telecoms Huawei, ZTE and any other technology company the government concludes poses a national security threat, closing what one of the bill's sponsors called a “dangerous loophole.”

That came with the Senate‘s unanimous passage of the Secure Equipment Act, which requires the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules to that effect. The House has already passed the bill, so it will only take a stroke of the President's pen to make it the new law of the land.

Currently, in addition to ZTE and Huawei, companies on the FCC's suspect tech list are Hytera, Hikvision, and Dahua.

The FCC was directed by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 to maintain a list of equipment and services that pose that national security risk.

The FCC has already adopted rules requiring networks to rip and replace any suspect tech that was bought with government subsidy money, but the new bill extends that crackdown to tech outside the subsidy programs. Now that tech will not be able to get FCC approval for use by any U.S. networks.

The bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio has been a big critic of Chinese technology in U.S networks.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, we must animate our technology with our values,” Markey said. “That’s why our bipartisan legislation will keep compromised equipment out of U.S. telecommunications networks and ensure our technology is safe for consumers and secure for the United States.”

“Chinese state-directed companies like Huawei and ZTE are known national security threats and have no place in our telecommunications network,” said Rubio. “I am grateful that the Senate and House passed this bill, which will help keep compromised equipment from bad actors out of critical American infrastructure.”

“I applaud Senator Rubio and Senator Markey as well as Republican Whip [Steve] Scalise [R-La.] and Congresswoman [Anna] Eshoo [D-Calif.] [who introduced the bill in the House] for their leadership and work to secure America’s communications networks," said FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, who called for closing what he has labeled the “Huawei loophole.” 

“Their work in the Senate and House to secure passage of this legislation, which is now headed to the President’s desk for his signature, will help to ensure that insecure gear from companies like Huawei and ZTE can no longer be inserted into America’s communications networks,” Carr said.

“Congratulations to Congresswoman Eshoo and Congressmen Scalise on the passage of their Secure Equipment Act of 2021," said FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington. "Once signed, this important legislation will give the FCC crucial authority to protect American networks from untrustworthy equipment that can serve as footholds for China and other foreign powers to infiltrate U.S. telecommunications networks and threaten our national security. But this legislation does not complete the work of protecting our digital sovereignty. In the current digital security landscape, inadvertent flaws in wireless edge devices are as much a threat as intentionally created backdoors. The FCC must continue to engage with industry and other parts of government to identify and eliminate weaknesses that can be exploited by our adversaries.”

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.