Hill Bill Would Help Fund Suspect Telecom 'Rip and Replace'

The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have introduced a bill, the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act (HR 4459), to secure the communications supply chain.

Chinese telecom Huawei has become the poster-company for insecure networks given that it supplies tech to U.S. broadband providers and given the intelligence community has identified it as a national security threat.

The legislators backing the bill invoked the company Tuesday (Sept. 24). "Our telecommunications companies rely heavily on equipment manufactured and provided by foreign companies that, in some cases, as with companies such as Huawei and its affiliates, can pose a significant threat to America’s commercial and security interests,” said the bill backers, Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and committee members Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.).

The bill, which along with other legislation will be considered at an upcoming hearing on supply chain security Sept. 27, "prohibits the use of federal funds to purchase communications equipment or services from any company that poses a national security risk to American communications networks." (Funds for federal contracts are already barred from being used on Huawei and other allegedly suspect tech.)

"Requires the FCC to establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Reimbursement Program to assist small communications providers with the costs of removing prohibited equipment or services from their networks and replacing the prohibited equipment with more secure communications equipment or services."

The FCC would have to publish a list of equipment or service providers that have been determined to pose a national security risk by outside experts. Participants in the FCC's Connect America Fund II subsidy program could not get those funds if they used excluded tech, and if they haven't gotten the money yet and can't build out without the barred tech, they would have to withdraw their application, but at no penalty.

Smaller providers are the ones that have tended to invest more in the low-cost Chinese-subsidized tech from telecoms based in that country. They are also the ones less able to shoulder the cost of ripping and replacing the suspect tech.

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks has called on Congress to find the funds to help out those smaller operators.

"I’m glad to see Chairman Pallone, with Ranking Member Walden and other leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, introduce a bipartisan bill today that would take important steps toward finding insecure communications equipment in U.S. networks quickly," said Starks following the bill's announcement. 

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.