FCC pushes forward on rules to block the certification of new telecoms gear from ZTE and Huawei

Crackdown on loopholes that allow 'high-risk' vendors to have equipment approved for use in the US

The US Federal Communications Commission is pressing forward with a proposal that would ban telecommunications providers [PDF] from using equipment made by manufacturers deemed to present a risk to national security.

The agency has opened a request for comments on rules that would revoke the certification of any equipment listed by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. This probe has also sought to gauge the temperature for withdrawing certification for "high-risk" equipment already deployed by carriers.

Both Huawei and ZTE were listed in the notification, as well as smaller entities that have earned the ire of US government. These include the Hytera Communications Corporation, which produces radio systems for cellular and industrial users, as well as video surveillance vendors Dahua and Hikvision.

Dahua and Hikvision have both been accused of providing technology used in the surveillance of China's Uighur minority.

The proposed rule change represents an escalation in the FCC's attempt to remove Huawei and ZTE from the US telecommunications network. Its previous tactics included preventing rural carriers from using federal subsidies to acquire new equipment from designated high-risk offenders.

Although most of the big names in the US telecoms market rely on gear made by Ericsson, Nokia, and to a lesser extent Samsung, cash-strapped providers servicing rural markets have traditionally opted to go with the cheapest option available. In many cases, this has been Huawei.

In a statement, FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said it "did not make sense" to ban new procurement while allowing existing equipment to remain in circulation, nor to allow carriers to buy high-risk gear with their own funds.

"Despite having identified security concerns with telecommunications equipment from Huawei and ZTE back in 2019, for the last several years this agency has continued to put its stamp of approval on this equipment. In other words, we have left open opportunities for its use in the United States through our equipment authorization process. So here we propose to close that door," Rosenworcel said.

Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr described this as a "glaring loophole" that Huawei continues to use.

"The FCC, through its equipment authorization process, continues to approve for use in the US thousands of applications from Huawei and other entities deemed national security threats. The FCC has approved more than 3,000 applications from Huawei alone since 2018. And just this month, the FCC approved applications from Hytera Communications."

"Once an entity lands on our Covered List, there appears to be no reason why the FCC should continue to review its gear and offer the FCC's seal of approval," Carr added.

Although the FCC has previously dispersed funds aimed at stripping Huawei-made gear, the agency is looking at further potential incentives, as well as a framework that could make the transition less painful for carriers and consumers alike.

The request-for-comments period has been scheduled to last 30 days after publication of the notice in the Federal Register. The agency said it hopes to hear from all entities that may be affected by any potential rules change, including carriers, RF licence holders, and communications equipment manufacturers. ®

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