FCC's Rosenworcel Offers Tweaks to Secure Networks Item

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has some tweaks she wants the commission to make in the 5G network security item it is voting on Friday (Nov. 22), an item she is expected to support.

In a speech in Mississippi Thursday, she talked about the item, circulated by FCC chair Ajit Pai last month, which will prevent any of the billions of dollars in Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies from being used to pay for insecure network technologies that could pose national security risks.

Related: Commerce Allows Continued Tech Exports to Huawei

She is all for network security, she told the crowd, but said her changes will help it better work "in the real world," and better protect network integrity while offering more regulatory certainty for carriers.

Those changes are:

1) Explore the FCC's authority to expand that prohibition on suspect tech--technology that poses a security risk--to carriers beyond the USF program, including looking at how the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act could provide the FCC that authority.

2) Use the FCC's broadcast incentive auction repack equipment reimbursement certification and audit regime s a model for removing insecure equipment.

3) Provide examples to companies in the program of examples of how they can "can continue the day-to-day maintenance, support, and operation of their existing networks in ways that do not compromise the security of American communications."

4) Prioritize review of issues related to the reimbursement program for replacing insecure equipment. "The actions we take on Friday will only start the clock. Companies deserve to know what help they have in that effort—and they deserve to know it sooner rather than later," she said.

The FCC order, a year and a half in the making, prevents broadband subsidy money to be spent on equipment from ZTE and Huawei, calling them untrustworthy vendors, as well as on other potential security threats to 5G networks.

The definition of banned equipment is "any equipment or services produced or provided by a covered company—i.e., one that poses a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain."

Related: Sen. Wyden Presses FCC to Secure 5G Nets

The FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau would issue an initial designation of national security threat--which this order does for Huawei and ZTE. Those companies, or any future companies so designated, will have 30 days to respond, then the bureau will have 120 days to issue a final designation.

The FCC will look to congressional enactments--like bans on government contract money--and guidance from national security and law enforcement in coming up with an "insecure" designation for future companies.

The ban applies to tech in both wireless and wireline, though must of the suspect tech is in the wireless space. 

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.