FCC Proposes Revising Rules to Better Weed Out Suspect Tech

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The FCC has proposed revising it's equipment authorization and competitive bidding rules to better keep untrustworthy entities out of U.S. networks.

The commission voted unanimously at its June 17 public meeting to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and notice of inquiry (NOI) to better protect U.S. networks from all threats.

Acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel said it was crucial to rethink the communications supply chain, including excluding suspect actors from U.S. networks by not authorizing suspect tech.

Also Read: Commissioner Carr Says FCC Continues to Approve Insecure Tech

She pointed out that while tech from Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE  had been excluded from networks built with government subsidies, the FCC was still approving potentially insecure tech from those companies, which could be used in networks not built with those government subsidies. The current proposal would close that loophole.

The NPRM/NOI proposes to revise the FCC's equipment authorizations to include a finding that the authorized equipment does not pose a national security risk. It also seeks input on whether and how the FCC should revoke prior authorizations by companies identified by the FCC as a potential threat to the security of U.S. communications networks. Currently those are Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE.

The FCC is also proposing that it change its competitive bidding rules to require bidders to certify that they are not relying for financial support on any company identified as a threat to national security. The rules would also require companies to have a U.S. agent for the FCC to deal with.

The commission is asking for input on compliance and enforcement of the revisions, and on how to leverage its equipment authorization authority to encourage cybersecure devices and better cybersecurity practices.

“[I]f you sell your equipment in the United States—the greatest free marketplace in the world—then you should also make yourself readily available to the FCC’s jurisdiction should we need to ask questions or hold you accountable for any issues stemming from that equipment," said commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "The American people welcome competition for the best goods, but also expect to be protected from harm. It is only fair. The item therefore proposes to require foreign equipment authorization applicants to have a U.S. registered agent for service of process. Beyond all the legalese, here is what the message is: If your equipment harms Americans, the FCC needs to be able to find you, and hold you accountable.  These changes will hopefully increase transparency, and prevent future bad actors from using their foreign status to avoid any FCC accountability.”

"We are launching this procedure with a simple and important goal--to protect our networks and out national security. At the same time, this is also about what I have described as our 5G values, values that Communist China clearly does not share with the U.S. and other democratic nations."

"The FCC is committed to doing everything it can to support the security of our communications networks," said Rosenworcel.

The FCC action came only days after a bipartisan bill was introduced that would prevent the use of private, as well as public, funds to purchase suspect tech for U.S. networks.

The legislators backing bills to ban all suspect tech from U.S. nets added their collective praise for the FCC vote.

“We applaud the FCC’s vote to put national security first by keeping compromised Chinese equipment out of U.S. telecommunications networks. We introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make this action permanent, blocking technology manufactured by companies that pose a threat to our national security," said Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), along with Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.). "We thank Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and Commissioner Carr for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with the Commission to protect our nation’s networks from foreign adversaries,” 

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.